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Plan B: The commendation of Marcus Rashford as England's attacking saviour

Plan B: The commendation of Marcus Rashford as England's attacking saviour

Given the lack of attacking options the Three Lions have, does the Manchester United starlet need to move from Old Trafford to fulfill his undoubted talent?

AT THE TIME of his debut, Marcus Rashford wasn’t even named as a squad member on the back of Manchester United’s programme. Drafted in just a few hours before kick off, Rashford filled in for the injured Anthony Martial, scoring twice as the teenager was given a big-time baptism in the Europa League win over FC Midtjylland. 

Back then, Martial was a number nine, both numerically and positionally, and so Rashford was used as a centre-forward, leading a forward line that included Memphis Depay, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata. That’s where he first made his name as Man Utd, and England’s, great hope for the future.

Of course, over time Rashford, and Martial for that matter has been converted into more of a winger. Jose Mourinho used the youngster as a centre-forward for the final two months of the 2015/16 season, with Rashford leading United to the Europa League trophy and Champions League qualification, but that was only due to the serious knee injury suffered by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. By trade, he is now a winger.

For England, though, Rashford’s future might still be as a centre-forward. Harry Kane is England’s main man, their focal point up top, their top scorer and captain. The Spurs man is among the very best strikers in the European game right now, coming off the back of a Golden Boot-winning summer at the World Cup. But the flip side of Kane’s brilliance may prompt a need for Rashford to be used up front.

What happens if Kane gets injured? Or if he suffers a dip in form? England lacks a Plan B, especially now that Jamie Vardy has retired from international football. They have become dependent on Kane over the past two years or so, meaning the whole house of cards could come falling down on the fortunes of one player.

That’s why Gareth Southgate must look to Rashford as an alternative. The 20-year-old might not be as direct as Vardy, he might not boast the capacity to control a game in the way Wayne Rooney for years, but Rashford can still run the channels and get in behind opposition defences. He gives England something different.

It’s even possible that Southgate could use Rashford alongside Kane as a front two. Mourinho hasn’t had much success in deploying the 20-year-old as a partner for Romelu Lukaku, a frontman not too dissimilar to Kane, but at the national team level, Rashford would have the likes of Dele Alli, Lingard and Raheem Sterling around him to help out. He doesn’t have that sort of support system at Man Utd.

Some argue that Rashford’s development has been stunted by Mourinho over the past three seasons. Only a handful of players have played more minutes under Mourinho than Rashford over the past two and a bit seasons, but it is true that some of the 20-year-old’s trademark explosiveness, the thing that made him so exciting as a young talent, seems to have been dulled in recent times.

Southgate seemingly subscribes to the view that Rashford needs more opportunities at club level. “The only way for him to improve is by playing,” he said after the Nations League defeat to Spain. “He knows we have real belief in him. I think we also have to remember his age and what he’s achieved in a short period of time. He’s got a tremendous mentality, he’s got great talent, we think he’s got everything to go on and be a top player and I’m sure he’ll do that.”

The performance against Spain on Saturday night, which saw Rashford open the scoring for England, suggested the attacker’s best days, at least in the immediate term, might come the colours of the national team. Southgate has created an environment that harnesses young players. That is in stark contrast to the environment Mourinho has created at Old Trafford, and so it could be that Rashford comes to be more comfortable for country than club. And as a striker, not a winger.





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Graham Ruthven
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