‘Zlatan fever’ has swept through Manchester for almost a month now, with anticipation building for the Swede to make his Manchester United debut, expected to occur in the pre-season friendly against Galatasaray in Ibrahimović’s home nation of Sweden. Ibrahimović arrival at the club has led some fans to accuse the club of turning their back on long-term planning and developing youth players in favour of achieving short-term success. Jose Mourinho will take a lot of blame if Marcus Rashford’s development stalls due to the lack of game time that he receives due to the arrival of Ibrahimović, but the situation draws parallels with the arrival of Robin van Persie and the lack of opportunities that Danny Welbeck subsequently received in the first team as a result of the Dutchman’s arrival.
There is no doubt that signing Van Persie was a great purchase for the Red Devils back in 2012, he was the catalyst to Sir Alex Ferguson winning his final Premier League, finishing the season as top scorer, even wrapping up the title scoring a hat-trick against Aston Villa to secure the club’s place at the pinnacle of the Premier League. However, both Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney suffered as a result of Van Persie’s arrival at the club, the previous season the two Englishmen struck up a partnership together. Welbeck seemed to be one of the most promising strikers in the English game at this point, but after Van Persie’s arrival, the majority of Welbeck’s game time came from the bench or the left-wing. Welbeck’s United career began to stagnate at Old Trafford, and due to him not having similar goal scoring ratio’s to Van Persie, Rooney or Radamel Falcao the academy product was deemed surplus to requirement by Louis van Gaal and was sold on to Premier League Rivals Arsenal in 2014.
Similarly, Marcus Rashford hit the ground running and won a place in the hearts of United fans from around the world due to his goal scoring exploits against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City. Nevertheless, he now has a huge fight on his hands to cement a place in Jose Mourinho’s starting XI. Zlatan Ibrahimović is, without a doubt, one of the best strikers to have ever graced this planet, and like a fine wine only seems to get better with age. However, he has spent the last four seasons in Ligue 1, one of the least competitive leagues in the world, due to the sheer financial dominance that Paris Saint-Germain possesses, which could mean that he is in a worse physical condition than Van Persie was when he made the switch to the Red Devils.
Rashford only needs to look at what happened last time a promising academy product went head to head with a global superstar to see what could potentially happen to his first team prospects in the present and the future. The only saving grace for Rashford’s career is that Ibrahimović is now 34 years old, and will not be able to compete on the level that will be expected at United for longer than a few seasons, but by then it could be too late for Rashford, he will be 21 in two seasons time and if he still hasn’t cemented his place in the first team squad then he could just become another “what if?” player from the academy, like so many other strikers in recent seasons; James Wilson, Danny Welbeck, Will Keane and Federico Macheda.
It may sound ridiculous but the upcoming campaign could be make or break for Rashford and his United career, despite him still only being 18 years old. If Jose Mourinho doesn’t take a shine to him then he could be heading straight out of the exit door, ‘The Special One’ wants to win and will use the players that he feels will get that job done, no matter the love and affection that certain players receive from fans. Ibrahimović is an experienced veteran who can be trusted to score goals, and Mourinho isn’t exactly famed for the faith that he places in the youth, so if Rashford doesn’t fit into his plans then it could be bad news for United’s new number 19.