Marcus Rashford’s heart is definitely in the right place. There is a lot more to the debate surrounding his free school meals campaign than the majority of people realise, but you can’t deny that the Manchester United star is trying to make things better for a younger generation.
Rashford is receiving plaudits from left, right and centre at the moment, but the problem is that this seems to have made him invincible in the sporting media. When was the last time you read a credible journalist or pundit criticise his form?
This wouldn’t be a problem if Rashford was playing well. Unfortunately, however, he is not, and he hasn’t been for a while now. Ever since his return from injury during post-lockdown Premier League football, he has looked a shadow of his confident former self – and he isn’t being pulled up for it.
There are a number of reasons as to why the 22-year-old is being consistently showered with praise, but the overpowering factor at the moment is his political activities. This, however, needs to be separated from what is, at the end of the day, his job. Just because he does a lot of good in one area of his life doesn’t mean he can get away with below-par footballing performances.
He also tends to produce a flash of brilliance once every five games or so that bail him out of poor showings. Take United’s recent 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain, for example. Rashford played dreadfully throughout this game (I’ll touch more on this later) but secured the win late on with a stunning finish. Cut to the studio, and Rio Ferdinand is raving about Rashford being on the same level as Kylian Mbappe.
It’s lazy punditry at best, but it also sums up the problem with Rashford at the moment. He is being let off the hook too easily.
Having watched Rashford a lot over the past few months, I’ve realised he’s doing a lot wrong in a lot of different games. His decision making plays a big part in that. There are a variety of problems with his game (which he’ll hopefully iron out; he’s still very young, after all) but his decision making in big moments needs to be significantly improved.
Take a look back at the PSG match once more. I’m sure you all remember the moment where Rashford found himself dashing through on goal in a 2v1 situation in United’s favour. Instead of sprinting through and finishing himself, or running far enough to drag the only PSG defender on hand towards him to make a pass easier, he tried an audacious pass straightaway. Fans watching from home must have been in uproar as the chance went begging.
He makes mistakes like this a lot, and it’s usually pretty infuriating to watch. It throws away chances for United and makes games where they are forced to break down teams playing with a low block even tougher. Rashford could do with taking a leaf out of teammate Mason Greenwood’s book; at such a young age, you very rarely see Greenwood make a poor decision with the ball at his feet. Rashford needs to add this tool to his arsenal.
Rashford’s poor decision making also leads to him making a ridiculous number of needless fouls. While this isn’t as glaring a flaw as others, it is still a tedious one – especially when United are chasing goals and don’t want to disrupt the flow of the game.
The number of times where Rashford clatters into the back of an opponent who is looking for a foul is ridiculous. Force them into a tight area? Press them into making a mistake? Show them onto their weaker foot? Not for me, says Marcus Rashford. Those aren’t options for a player who’s only defensive agenda seems to be gifting free kicks to the other team!
The England striker also needs to work on his consistency. As I’ve said already, a long-range strike every few games isn’t enough to paper over the cracks of one poor performance after another. He needs to stop with the fancy flicks, stop with the audacious shots and passes when there are easier options available, and work on achieving 7/10 performances every week at least.
It’s the dirty work and the unattractive goals that transform good players into great players. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo epitomised this at Old Trafford; while they too were capable of scoring spectacular goals, they consistently delivered the less than glamorous strikes. That’s what made them so successful.
Rashford just doesn’t seem capable of doing that at the moment, and yet he still isn’t criticised in the media for it. If he plays poorly, he is ignored. If he plays poorly and scores a long range effort, he is called the best thing since sliced bread. Perhaps a bit of constructive criticism would go a long way to improving his game.
All of these flaws combine to create what seems to be a poor footballing brain. Rashford just doesn’t look like a natural thinker on the pitch. Of course, this isn’t quite as much as a necessity for a winger or striker as it is for a creative midfielder or playmaker. It does make a big difference, however, and this is showing in his performances.
Good decision making is necessary if a player like Rashford wants to be efficient in front goal (in terms of goals and assists) and he isn’t contributing nearly as much as he should be. There are too many stray passes and too many wayward shots. Too many ball losses and not enough end product.
It is difficult to drop Rashford at the moment. The signing of Jadon Sancho would have made it easier, but I have a horrible feeling that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have happily dropped Greenwood before Rashford. We each have our own opinions, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the younger player is the more reliable option right now.
Perhaps the signing of Edison Cavani will spur Rashford on to greater heights; his place in the team is now no longer a certainty like it was when he was up against the lousy competition of Daniel James, Jesse Lingard and Odion Ighalo.
What Marcus Rashford does need is a bit more pressure from the media. None of this dancing around his shortcomings because of his good deeds in the political world. He might deserve praise off the pitch, but he still warrants criticism on it.