I was going to open this plea for sanity with a philosophical quote about the virtues of patience or something similarly clever, but why overcomplicate things when something simple would suffice?
That’s the sort of thing that keeps getting Marcus Rashford in trouble isn’t it?
Manchester United’s home-grown line leader continues to polarize opinion as he flits from one end of the performance spectrum to the other, threatening to hurt patrons of the Stretford End as often as United’s opponents with his wildly inconsistent shooting.
Curiously, when you watch Rashford run through his repertoire of tricks during a pre-match warm-up, his mastery of the football is incredible.
He makes it do things….such dirty, perverted things, that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you are going to witness something that will blow your mind to confetti when things get serious.
However, when the whistle blows, that same mastery and complete dominion over a football seems to inflate Rashford’s confidence beyond the borders of reason.
When Rashford receives the ball, dead or otherwise, within 40-yards of goal, from any angle, his body language screams – “Hold tight everyone, here comes the magic”.
Unfortunately, the rabbit doesn’t get pulled from the hat often enough. Instead, Rashford regularly punches a hole through the bottom and volleys the rabbit into the crowd, covering them in a pink mist.
Rashford’s insistence on choosing the most difficult route from a range of possible options is what boils the most bile. Yet, on the occasions the attacker does reluctantly accept the consolation prize of an easy 10-yard pass, he regularly miscalculates the weight and execution anyway.
It’s almost as if Rashford becomes so frustrated at having to deliver something so mundane and simple, that his brain refuses to co-operate.
Is Marcus Rashford the footballing equivalent of Will Hunting? Throwing resentful, self-sabotaging strops when asked by the professor to solve sophisticated equations that he thinks are beneath his brilliance?
Well, just like Will Hunting, it’s not his fault. It’s not his fault. It’s not your fault Marcus.
Robin Williams’ anger towards 21-year old Will Hunting in the Oscar-winning movie dissolves when he realises that he is “just a kid”. It didn’t make sense to expect him to be a well-rounded individual or a human being on the verge of full cerebral development.
Like Hunting, Rashford’s behaviour and talents are tainted with with immaturity and the misdirected bravado of youth – though how could anyone expect it to be any other way?
As a general rule of thumb, football supporters are forever locked in the “now”, and while hindsight remains 20/20, foresight is always blurred by hysteria.
Instead of being energised by Rashford’s moments of magic, of which there are many, and enjoying the spectacle of a supremely gifted youngster on an upward curve, huge chunks of United’s support seem distracted by his imperfections, of which again, there are many.
At the age of 21, while playing in the worst Manchester United teams in two decades, Marcus Rashford has already scored Premier League goals against Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal. He’s hit the net in both the Champions and Europa League, and registered seven times for England.
In terms of achievement, for a player his age, Rashford’s career trajectory is about as vertical as it gets. Yet, he’s not the celebrated bright young thing that he probably should be.
Instead, he continues to be derided and harangued by an emotionally fractured fanbase that no longer wants to spend their patience on potential. Tell me – who are the immature ones again?
Ironically, Manchester United have helped to fan the flames of unrealistic expectation flicking at Rashford. The kings of ill-timed and badly thought-out decisions “rewarded” Rashford with a brand-new contract in July, affirming his first-choice striker status, and paying him a salary consistent with the most high-profile match winners in the Premier League.
Now those impatient supporters have had their expectations heightened even further, pushing them to even more unrealistic realms. They demand the kind of performances and output delivered by the players in similar positions at United’s rival clubs.
However, it’s worth repeating that Marcus Rashford is just 21 years young.
At the same age, Man City’s 31-year old Sergio Aguero was entering his 4th season at Atletico Madrid, having scored just 13 league goals in 32 appearances the campaign before.
At 21, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, now 27, had just signed on for his ill-fated, reputation battering spell at Chelsea.
At 21, Sadio Mane, also 27, was trying to establish himself in the Austrian Bundesliga, and at the same age, Roberto Firmino, 27 too, was finally starting to make some headway at Hoffenheim in Germany having scored five league goals in 33 appearances the season before, and seven in 30 the year before that.
At 21, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, now 30, was starting his first season at Borussia Dortmund having moved from Saint Etienne Ligue 1. He scored 13 Bundesliga goals 32 appearances that first year.
At 21, Harry Kane, now 26, was starting his FIRST season as Tottenham’s first choice centre forward, having played in just 10 league games the season before. He would go on to score 21 in 32 that year and never look back.
That’s not to suggest of course, that Rashford it certain to emulate any of the aforementioned players’ successes – though he looks, to me at least, to be well on his way.
It does however, serve to highlight the relevance of age, and how Rashford’s tender years and relative inexperience compared to his big-club counterparts should not be ignored.
Wouldn’t it be more realistic to compare his status and progression to players like Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham, who is almost a month older than Rashford, or Everton’s Richarlison who is over five months older than the United youngster? Through that lens, Rashford is undoubtedly the shining example among his peers.
In a more stable environment, the flashes of quality and potential Rashford shows would act as a salve for those who get heated about the inconsistencies in his game.
Instead, Manchester United have thrust this raw footballer centre-stage, flaws n’ all, and asked him to simultaneously iron out his wrinkles AND win matches for an average football team at a club in crisis.
That’s a considerable load for a 21-year old to bear, and Marcus Rashford’s talent demands much more patience and understanding than he is currently afforded by United fans.