There has been a touch of deja vu about events at Old Trafford over the past couple of weeks. A teenaged striker, this time by the name of Marcus Rashford has taken advantage of an injury to Wayne Rooney and made an explosive start to his Manchester United career. His performances and four goals against Midtjylland and Arsenal may just have sparked the Red Devil’s season into life.
In the space of a fortnight he went from an almost complete unknown outside the gates of Old Trafford to the name on the lips of football fans across the world. However, flash-back seven years to Spring 2009 and something very similar happened.
With Rooney unavailable, Sir Alex Ferguson named an unknown Italian youngster on the bench for a home game against a strong Aston Villa side with United looking to avoid a third straight Premier League defeat and end a poor run that was threatening to derail their season.
With United 2-1 down going into the final 30 minutes, 17 year old Federico Macheda was thrown on for his debut and he helped inspire a dramatic if scarcely deserved comeback. Cristiano Ronaldo levelled for United before Macheda produced arguably the moment of the season by scoring a sensational stoppage time winner.
Macheda would score the winner at Sunderland in United’s next league game as if to confirm his emergence as a star of the future and his team would win 7 of their final 8 games to clinch a Premier League title that looked like it could have been slipping away before Macheda’s intervention.
A cautionary tale
Seven years on though and the Italian wonderkid, now in the supposed prime years of his career, spends most Saturday’s hoping to get a place on the Cardiff City bench in the Championship. He has played just 63 minutes of league football for the Bluebirds this season and his teenage years at Old Trafford must seem like a lifetime ago.
Given the magnitude of his demise, it is probably no great surprise to see Macheda’s name pop up as a cautionary note in almost every article and report on Marcus Rashford since his match-winning performances over the past couple of weeks.
Much like almost every bright young Brazilian striker over the past four decades has been billed as ‘the new Pele’, it seems every young striker to make any impression on the United first-team will have to deal with questions about whether he’s the real deal or will just turn out to be the ‘new Macheda’.
To some extent that might help ease the pressure on Rashford. On the face of it he appears to have all the raw attributes required to succeed in the Premier League. He has raw pace, which is a significant advantage in English football and is clearly comfortable on the ball and was in no way overawed by his first-team debut.
He has made headlines with his cool finishes that have seen him become the first player since the end of World War II to score four times in his opening two games for Manchester United.
However there is far more to Rashford than merely trying to break the defensive line with his pace and score goals. As a youngster he tended to play in a deeper role and as he has already demonstrated in the United first-team he is player that can drop deep or occupy wide positions and still cause defenders headaches.
Not the only cautionary tales
He is an exciting talent for sure but the need for caution shouldn’t end on the mere uttering of the word Macheda. United fans that are already raving about the 18 year old may be wise to think about names such as Ravel Morrison and more latterly Adnan Januzaj, who has completely gone off the boil since his breakthrough 2013-14 season at Old Trafford, when he appeared to have the world at his feet.
The good news though is that initial impressions at least and certainly reports from inside the club suggest that Rashford is a good kid with the required temperament to develop and flourish. That certainly wasn’t the case with Morrison and there have been countless other examples of immensely talented youngsters who fail to live up to their promise predominantly because they lacked the right mental attributes to succeed at the highest level.
Rashford has already demonstrated he doesn’t shy away from hard work and tracked back to win the ball in midfield numerous times in the win over Midtjylland. He has been schooled in the ‘Man United way’ since joining the club’s academy at just 7 years old and the fact he was made captain earlier in the season for a UEFA Youth League tie ahead of several older teammates is further testament to United’s faith in the teenager.
Needs time and patience
It’s far too early to start talking about Rashford as the future of English football and Roy Hodgson’s comments that he could yet play a part in Euro 2016 are at best unhelpful and perhaps come closer to ridiculous given he has only made three starts as a professional footballer.
Like any young footballer there will be many ups and downs along the way but provided Rashford is handled well and allowed time to properly develop he could become a big part of Manchester United’s long-term plans and at worse his emergence signifies that the youth system that produced the ‘class of 92’ is still capable of unearthing the odd gem.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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