It shouldn’t have gone like this. Marcus Rashford was all set to take on the world and looked like coming on top.
After breaking into the Manchester United first-team in 2016 his goal tallies had been steadily increasing. Seven in his first campaign, then 11 and 13 in each of the next two seasons before a dramatic increase to 22 in 2019/20 before hitting a single goal less last season. Now, however, his progress has come to a screeching halt.
Rashford currently has just five goals to his name this season and is on course to notch his lowest return since making his debut in the senior side — even fewer than his first campaign in which he made just 18 appearances. It’s been a dramatic decline, one which has been sad and frustrating to witness.
Whether it be a lack of confidence, shortness of fitness after undergoing shoulder surgery in the summer, dwindling passion in a season that has long been a write-off or not taking to Ralf Rangnick‘s methods — the simple fact that Rashford’s stock has never been lower. United have suffered as a result.
Though he is far from the only culprit responsible for another disastrous campaign, United have lost most of the firepower and excitement they had last season and Rashford’s struggles have played a major role in that. It’s not as though he has been playing well and been unable to hit the target; his all-round play has been disappointing too.
At times it looks as though Rashford has forgotten the basics. Simple passes go out of play, touches are heavy and fall to the opposition, runs aren’t being made and his head is dropping. Rashford looks like a player who’s lost belief in himself and his teammates. It’s completely understandable that Rangnick doesn’t deem him good enough to start matches.
The lack of game time has taken its toll, though, with Rashford considering his future at Old Trafford ahead of the summer transfer window. It’s understood that he will seek clarity on his role from Erik Ten Hag when he takes over.
Rashford being in this situation would be unthinkable even just a year ago but now it’s up to incoming manager Ten Hag to set things right again. He has previous for doing so.
Ten Hag has been rightly lauded for the exciting football his Ajax side plays and the way he’s developed several star youth prospects but an underrated quality the 52-year-old has shown in Amsterdam is the ability to resurrect careers. Though the dominant force in the Netherlands, Ajax do not have the financial might to compete with Europe’s giants for players, so their squad is largely made up of academy products and the cast-offs from bigger teams.
On multiple occasions during his reign, Ten Hag has signed players — several from the Premier League — who had fallen out of favour at their club and looked set to fade into irrelevance. But then Ten Hag got his hands on them and suddenly their qualities shone through once more and former teams are made to look stupid.
The best example is Dusan Tadic, who had become a tidy yet forgettable player at Southampton, but since moving to Ajax has been revitalised and regularly has some of the highest goal contribution stats in Europe. In just 190 appearances he has a staggering 91 goals and 89 assists.
Daly Blind, Davvy Klassen, Ryan Babble, Maarten Stekelenburg, Quincy Promes and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are all players who were given a second lease of life under Ten Hag but the dramatic improvement of Sebastien Haller is what Rashford should look to for proof that the incoming manager could turn his form around.
The frontman was very highly regarded in Germany and was the spearhead of a deadly Eintracht Frankfurt attack, with 20 goals in the 2018/19 season convincing West Ham to splash the cash on him. Haller struggled massively in England and was largely regarded as a joke, with the Hammers’ ongoing striker curse finding another victim. He lasted just 18 months, having scored 14 goals in 54 games.
Yet, in the 18-month since he joined Ajax he has re-established his reputation as a lethal finisher and a handful for any defence to contain. Haller is unrecognisable from the player who looked so lumbering in London. In 62 Ajax appearances he has already amassed 46 goals and a further 16 assists.
The poorer quality of the Eredivisie obviously plays a factor but that is still a significant enough increase to at least give a healthy slice of the credit to Ten Hag for restoring a player’s confidence. Some 11 of Haller’s strikes have also come in this season’s Champions League campaign too, with only Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski having scored more.
If Ten Hag can turn around the careers of players like Haller and Tadic, then there’s no saying what he could so with a player of Rashford’s undoubted quality — especially as he the United man even in his prime yet. Ten Hag has all the tools to get a career that promised greatness back on track.