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Marcus Rashford’s star is still on the rise

When Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene in Louis van Gaal’s final season as Manchester United manager he breathed life into a team which lacked creativity and dynamism. With a brace in each of his first two games, the then 18-year-old showed enormous potential from the very outset of his career. He finished that campaign with nine goals in just 21 matches, a tremendous record for a player of his age coming into the first team, especially one struggling to create chances and break teams down.

Like many young players establishing themselves, Rashford has since experienced fluctuations in his form. There have been many periods where his electric pace, flair and instinctual finishing have made the difference for United. His brace against Liverpool this year at Old Trafford combined all of those elements to devastating effect as he gave Trent Alexander-Arnold a memorable hiding.

Unfortunately, Rashford’s season didn’t finish in that vein. Following his man of the match showing against United’s bitter rivals, the young Mancunian struggled with his decision-making. Rather than making the right play he too often chose to go for glory himself from any and all angles. Even when he got an extended run in the team as the lead striker, his preferred position, he couldn’t find form with the low point coming in a horrific 70 minutes before being hauled off against Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

Many have also been quick to blame the manager’s handling of him for Rashford’s up and down form. Jose Mourinho has been criticized for not playing him enough minutes, particularly as a striker, instead preferring to play him on the left of United’s attack.

It is easy to forget, as he just completed his third season with the first team, but the young man is still just 20 years old. The reality is these wild upticks and downturns in form are normal for young players, even those with special ability like Rashford. More than most, United fans should be well versed in this fact.

Cristiano Ronaldo became the best player in the world at the club under Sir Alex Ferguson. But his final three seasons at the club, in which he led United to glory in England and Europe, shouldn’t obscure the struggles he had in transforming his otherworldly talent into match-winning performances consistently or that Ferguson experienced in trying to coax it out of him.

His development was a lengthy process and he dazzled as often as he infuriated. Ronaldo often seemed more interested in showing off his talent with tricks that led nowhere rather than making simple and effective choices. Ferguson, for his part, picked him often during those formative first three seasons but didn’t start him week in, week out.

Rashford’s development has been similar as has Mourinho’s handling of his precocious talent. Just this season while the Portuguese was lambasted for not playing him enough, with Jamie Redknapp ridiculously asserting Rashford would need to leave the club to get enough game time, he made 61 appearances in all competitions.

Like a young Ronaldo, he too makes the wrong decisions quite often. He similarly infuriates when he chooses to shoot from distance or tight angles and overcomplicating matters.

None of this is to suggest Rashford is on his way to reaching the heights Ronaldo has, but make no mistake, the lad is still well on his way to becoming a star as many have envisioned. 14 goals and seven assists this season is very solid production for a 20-year-old attacker even with the inconsistency of his performances.

Still, he has much to iron out in his game to maximize his potential. Aside from decision-making Rashford must become a more refined finisher in front of goal,n improve his hold up play with his back to goal and work on his first touch. There is a lot of work yet to be done, but time is very much on his side.

In this day and age impatience is rife. Fans want the club to continue its tradition of bringing players up through the academy and developing them into first team players, yet they aren’t willing to go through the growing pains associated with that. Many have suggested Rashford is just another flash in the pan after a poor end to the season, but this is exactly what development looks like.

It isn’t linear. It has ups and downs and stops and starts. This is all part of the process, even for super talents like Rashford. But the talent hasn’t gone anywhere — it is still there and he’s still well on his way to becoming the next homegrown Manchester United star.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

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