Whenever a young player makes an instant impact on their debut, the resultant fanfare around their limitless potential can often be premature and overhyped.
I for one am wary of putting the cart before the horse. But in this case, Manchester United may have a real diamond in the rough.
Marcus Rashford was thrown into the United starting line-up against FC Midtjylland at the last minute, after Anthony Martial sustained an injury to his hamstring in the warm-up.
The teenage forward from Wythenshawe in Manchester responded to this by scoring a brace as the Red Devils came back from behind to win and progress to the Europa league last-16.
The Manchester United academy has become a conveyor belt for professional footballers, although many of them go on have better careers elsewhere- current examples being Danny Drinkwater and Danny Simpson.
A then 17-year-old Federico Macheda enjoyed a goalscoring debut, but never went on to fulfil the promise of his early showings. The hope is that Rashford will buck that trend.
The 5’9” frontman followed up one brace in his European debut with another in his Premier League debut against Arsenal. Cue pandemonium. It is still perhaps too early to say whether he can continue his impressive early form for Van Gaal’s struggling side, but what is positive is that he has come up with the goods in the big games, scoring the winner at The Etihad in the Manchester Derby.
If you look at the statistics, Rashford has hit the target with every shot in the Premier League, converting 60% of those, despite averaging just over a shot per game . In plain English, the kid is clinical. If he gets a clear chance, at this moment in time, you could very well put your house on the ball ending up in the back of the net. And if the stats are to be believed, Rashford has the potential to eclipse the goalscoring records of Shearer, Van Nistelrooy and Henry. His goals-per-minute ratio is better than all of the above.
But it is difficult to tell how good he really is, after all, as a goalscorer in a good (albeit underperforming) Manchester United side, could he turn into another Macheda? He does not create chances, nor does he win many aerial battles, but he does get on the scoresheet, and many players, see Jermain Defoe, have made a career out of doing just that.
Averages per game in the Premier League. Stats generated by squawka.com
Nicky Butt has called for patience and understanding from the media and from the FA, so that Rashford can focus on his present and not his future. A crystal ball is no help to you if you want to determine the path Rashford will take in his career. If he is afforded the right game time and guidance he could flourish and grow into the player the Red devils so desperately crave. But with United continuously linked with a host of genuine world-beaters, Zlatan Ibrahimović included, this does not look likely.
The Old Trafford club have a reputation for giving youth a chance and are said to hold an appreciation for Mauricio Pochettino, should they dispense with Louis van Gaal’s services, who also shares a talent for developing young players. It is no coincidence that Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Thomas Carroll and Kevin Wimmer have improved under his stewardship. But United have also been heavily linked with a move for Jose Mourinho, out of work since leaving Chelsea in December. The Portuguese however, is not at all strong in this area and his appointment could signal the end to any hopes of Rashford becoming an all-time great.
It seems slightly mad that United could end up paying up to £61.5 million pounds for Anthony Martial, when they had Rashford playing in their youth and reserve sides. This is not to knock the ability of the Frenchman, he is a great young player, but you would hope that the upper management, and whoever calls themselves Manchester United manager in the future can look closer to home rather than at the transfer market. If they want to strengthen their striking options in the summer, there may be no need. So long as Rashford stays injury-free, and can maintain this level of performance, then he could be just the player they are looking for. If not, we may well see him competing for titles at clubs like Leicester City in the future.