This article is part of Football FanCast’s Expert Roundup feature, which provides three quotes from those in the know in order to illuminate fundamental strengths, weaknesses, quirks, stylistic comparisons and general observations of players, transfer targets and confirmed signings.
Just how do you solve a problem like Marcus Rashford? The Manchester United star burst onto the scene like the next big thing when he fired in a pair of braces against FC Midtjylland and Arsenal in the space of a week.
Starting in that centre-forward role in the absence of an injured Anthony Martial, big things were expected of the academy product. The long-term successor to Wayne Rooney. Jose Mourinho even suggested the 21-year-old could break the club’s goal-scoring record.
Fast forward more than three years later, however, and things have well and truly hit a brick wall. The England international has been caught in the middle of a rock and a hard place, unsure of which direction is future is heading in. There are those who are steadfast in their beliefs that Rashford has the capability of being United’s main man up front, and there are others who are equally as adamant that he is best used from out wide.
In his fledgling career, the Red Devils ace has played under Louis van Gaal, Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at club level, and then under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate whilst with England. Five different managers, and yet still no closer to finding out definitively where Rashford is best at. The contradictions in opinions certainly hasn’t helped matters, and the three bosses below have provided their verdict on the matter.
As the man who brought in Romelu Lukaku to be the main man up top, it seemed pretty clear in Jose Mourinho’s mind that he didn’t envisage Rashford as being an out-and-out centre-forward. In his spell as United boss, the Portuguese man gave the England international an equal amount of games through the middle, as he did out wide on the left – 49. Since departing from the Old Trafford dugout, the former Chelsea manager has spent time doing punditry work with Sky Sports, and has essentially doubled down on his assessment of Rashford’s best position, per M.E.N.
The man who could quite conceivably be the man to kick-start Rashford’s career, the England manager played the 21-year-old from the left-hand side against Bulgaria in EURO 2020 qualifying, and was immediately rewarded with a peach of a goal. Out wide, his pace and directness with the ball can be a real asset, and he averaged two dribbles per game in the UEFA Nations League earlier this summer, compared to just the 1.3 in the Premier League this season. Despite only seeing him on rare occasions, Southgate has been equally adamant on which position Rashford is best suited for, per The Guardian.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
And now the man tasked with the ultimate and most decisive job regarding the forward. As a former striker himself, it is perhaps understandable for the United boss to want to mould Rashford into a bona-fide number nine. After all, he will no doubt be thinking that his years of know-how at playing the striker role at the highest level at Old Trafford could potentially rub off on the 21-year-old. It’s therefore been no surprise to see Solskjaer remain insistent that the £200k-a-week man can carve out a long and prosperous career as the man through the middle.
The biggest disparity in what the trio have had to say about Rashford? Both Mourinho and Southgate are essentially dismissive of the 21-year-old’s ability to play with his back to goal and hold up the ball, whilst Solskjaer is far more effusive in the England international’s quality to play as a more traditional number nine. The United boss making comparisons with his striker and Harry Kane – a Premier League Golden Boot winner – seems just a bit of a stretch.
For a team apparently intent on playing a fast-paced style of football, United don’t entirely need Rashford to be a battering ram centre-forward. In games against the division’s bigger sides, they can afford to leave him on his own, and just have him play on the shoulder of the opposition’s defence.
Where teams are likely to sit back themselves, having a strike partner for the academy product – as Solskjaer did against Liverpool with Daniel James – could be the key to unlocking the best out of the Englishman.