Is Marcus Rashford a Walcott or Ronaldo?
Rashford runs at the Southampton defence (Photo: NurPhoto / Getty Images)

Is Marcus Rashford a Walcott or Ronaldo?

Marcus Rashford is one of the best young talents around, but he is reaching a crossroads as he continues to struggle for consistency

craigmillar1972
Craig Millar

After you had made two senior appearances you had scored a brace in both of them. One in Europe, and one against Arsenal in the Premier League. You did it in a Manchester United shirt, and you did it at the age of 18. You are Marcus Rashford.

No matter what happens in Rashford's career that intro, the one that he created, will be used to start any interview describing the incredible beginning of his career. Whether that will prove to be one of the highlights remains to be seen.

It's doubtful.

After all, a few months after his debut he played in and won an FA Cup final. That summer he would play in Euro 2016 after making his England debut in the build-up. In 2017, he would play in a League Cup final and Europa League final and pick up more winners medals.

He's still only 21 now and he hasn't added to his medal tally, but he has represented England in a World Cup and he has just seen off the likes of Romelu Lukaku and is a mainstay of the United team. So the future is bright.

Well.......yes, yet it seems strange that he is now appearing to be at somewhat of a crossroads for both club and country.

The international break saw him link up with England and he started the Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria. He started as a left hand sided forward and didn't have the best of games, though England won 4-0. The next game, he was relegated to the bench. 

Kosovo, a relatively new country, were seemingly tougher opposition but in Rashford's absence England tore into them and his replacement, Jadon Sancho, scored two and had an assist. He seems to do that every game. And that is one of Rashford's problems. Consistency.

Sancho has had an equally meteoric rise, is two years younger, but he is blazing a trail for Borussia Dortmund and now England. Competition at the highest level means you have to perform with regularity.

Position bigger issue than the competition?

The other issue is his position. It's still very debatable as to where he is best deployed. For England, it's on the left - he has no option as Harry Kane is the first name on the team sheet. So barring injury, he is up against Sancho and Raheem Stirling, who has been devastating for some time.

The competition is not new, but at United the position issue has been born. Under Louis van Gaal, who gave him his debut, it was as a central striker he made his name. Eventually, he would be pushed out to the wide areas as first Zlatan Ibrahimovic and then Lukaku arrived.

Jose Mourinho was probably happy to let Rashford develop and learn from those two whilst out in the wide areas. Sir Alex Ferguson has done that with players before him too. Playing in more than one position can produce mixed results though, especially with young players.

That seems to be the case with Rashford.

There are times when he can be very hard to play against. His teammate for the national squad Trent Alexander-Arnold will pay testament to that. He destroyed Liverpool back in March 2018 playing out wide.

Those early days under van Gaal showed he can stretch teams and score goals through the middle, and his performance against Chelsea on the opening day of the season suggests he still can. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to stick or twist. One or the other.

In between the England internationals, Stan Collymore had his say on Rashford in The Mirror.

He said "If Rashford isn't careful then, sooner rather than later, he is going to find himself cast as the modern-day Theo Walcott, someone who isn't seen as an out-and-out winger or straight-up No 9 but a Jack of all trades as a forward and master of none."

Collymore may not be everyone's favourite pundit, but he has a point. Yet the comparison to Walcott may not be the best, and someone closer to home might be a better example. Danny Welbeck.

Walcott was essentially a winger who had designs on being a centre forward and was adept at doing so. Both Rashford and Welbeck are centre forwards, but are and were educated at an early age down the sides.

Both Walcott and Welbeck have been excellent players, but both are coming towards the end of their careers at the highest level.

Walcott never reached his potential and struggles to get into Everton's first-team these days. Welbeck had his career curtailed by injuries and it is hard to see him resurrecting his career, though he is trying to do so at Watford. Walcott is 30, Welbeck 28.

Welbeck grew up at United and scored a Premier League goal at an earlier age than even Rashford, when he netted against Stoke City as a 17-year-old. It was almost impossible to cement a place at that age as United were Champions of Europe when he debuted.

So loan spells followed, and when he came back he was still competing with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez. When Berbatov left, Robin van Persie arrived. So he played out wide mainly. 

Stats support Rashford

He held his own, but injuries have hurt his career even from a young age, though he was England's main striker for a period and has a good record at that level. He left United having made 142 appearances. Rashford has surpassed that already and scored more than Welbeck's goal haul of 29 goals. He has 47 in 174 appearances and is still only 21.

So there are reasons to be cheerful. 

By the end of the 2005-06 season, Cristiano Ronaldo had spent three seasons at United and was also 21. He never played centre forward but even so his totals were 137 appearances and 27 goals. He was also playing with Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes et al.

Comparisons are all well and good and those statistics don't mean that he is better than Ronaldo, or that his career cannot peter out. It does show that at a similar age even Ronaldo was still learning his craft. He was learning fast though as over the next three seasons he scored 91!

Rashford could score a lot more too in the next few years. It's alleged that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is frustrated that both Rashford and Anthony Martial are not scoring enough scruffy goals and is working hard to educate the pair of them.

Whether he is annoyed or not, he has put great faith in them both in getting rid of Lukaku and not replacing him.

Whilst Rashford may not be cock-a-hoop at losing his place for England, and with a hugely mixed start to United's season, he could be forgiven for moping. His career is in his own hands though, barring injury, and he's been given huge responsibility.

He will always face competition. There will always be a Sancho for England (and maybe United), and there are Martial and Mason Greenwood breathing down his neck for a shirt at Old Trafford.

Daniel James has been so good on the left so far for both United and Wales, he may have cemented that position and that may heap more pressure on Rashford.

The young man from Wythenshawe has taken everything in his stride up until now and shown he is both talented and determined and can rise to a challenge. His penalty in Paris showed he has nerves of steel. 

He does need to find consistency whichever position he lines up in for both his and Solkjaer's sakes. Sooner or later he has to maintain his high standards regularly or face being a bit-part player at United, or a full-time player elsewhere. 

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