When Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene in March of 2016, many Manchester United fans were heralding the arrival of their next goal-scoring legend. A local lad blessed with skill, speed, and devastating finishing ability, Rashford was the young, talented forward that Man United could build their future round, vanquishing the relative mediocrity that had enshrouded the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.
But the three and a half years since Rashford scored those two Premier League debut goals against Arsenal have seen Man United still mired in underachievement. José Mourinho came and went, unable to achieve significant Premier League success despite huge financial investment. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s arrival brought with it a boost in form, but that has simmered down in recent months and Man United have reverted to their underwhelming ways once more.
Rashford has found himself unable to hit the heights his early form in a red shirt suggested he would. He seems a player struggling to find his footballing identity, not an out-and-out number nine, not a winger either – his skill set is one that seems hard to fully utilise in this Manchester United team. Anthony Martial, another young player who was tipped for great things in his early days at the club, has also struggled to establish himself as a recognised striker. Romelu Lukaku’s departure has left Man United in want of a focal point for their attack.
With the team unable to hit the right notes going forward so far this season, it could be an opportunity for Mason Greenwood to make his mark in a Manchester United shirt. The young Englishman is highly regarded at the club and has already impressed in his few first-team appearances, scoring the winner in Man United’s opening Europa League game against Astana. UEFA europa league odds will place Man United as heavy tournament favourites, and Greenwood will be hoping to play his part in helping the club to achieve European success. With Rashford and Martial struggling for form and fitness, he may well have eyes on making a regular first-team place his own.
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Greenwood is a skilful, talented player, comfortable with both feet, which makes him extremely versatile and allows him to occupy several different forward positions. However, it often happens that moulding such a multi-talented footballer into a jack of all trades can leave him a master of none. Rashford and Martial’s dip in goal-scoring form is arguably a result of being shifted to different positions too often, consequently losing the innate goal-scoring instinct strikers need. For Greenwood, perhaps he must focus his efforts on becoming an out-and-out centre forward. Solskjær will have to take responsibility for ensuring the youngster is afforded the chance to improve as a striker.
There is a sense that performing well for Man United at such a young age can ultimately heap more and more pressure on a player as the years go by. Wayne Rooney is perhaps an example of this phenomenon, a player who looked a husk of his younger self towards the end of his time at Old Trafford. Rashford may be in danger of suffering a similar fate if steps are not taken to prevent such a decline, and Greenwood must be given the space and freedom to develop at his own speed, not to be cast upon the scrapheap after a few sub-par performances, or heralded as Man United’s future after scoring a few goals.
In an age where hyperbole and sensationalism run amok among football fans and media, what Man United arguably need most is tempered expectations, for the time being, to allow Solskjær to find his feet as a manager and allow the team to rebuild. If the pressure of representing England’s most successful club can be lessened, Rashford and Martial will be free to spread their footballing wings once again, and an atmosphere can be created where players like Mason Greenwood can blossom in their own due time.