The young striker has made himself a huge part of the Reds’ line-up in recent months, but there is a danger of using him too much as his body struggles to keep up.
On Monday, the entire Manchester United world came together to wish Marcus Rashford a happy 19th birthday. His 18th had passed by much less eventfully, but the England striker’s emergence in 2016 has changed his life forever.
Since that now famous night at Old Trafford in February when he was called upon at the 11th hour against FC Midtjylland and snatched two goals on debut, Rashford’s star has risen and risen with almost unparalleled progress.
Yet there are some concerns now that his climb to the top has not been steep enough. Perhaps if more roadblocks had been put in his way then he would not have racked up almost 40 competitive appearances for club and country in the last eight months, even taking into account the summer break.
His demeanour has never been anything other than mature, despite the craziness of this year. From scoring two on his debut, to the double he netted three days later against Arsenal, the FA Cup final appearance at Wembley, a Euro 2016 trip with England and key goals this term under new boss Jose Mourinho, Rashford has had plenty of opportunities to let stardom to go to his head – but he has never come close.
His body, however, has perhaps not been quite as unassuming as his mind during that spell, and there appears to be a real fear now for what the constant use of the striker has done for a frame still negotiating the latter days of adolescence. While Mourinho’s first instinct at the start of this season was to leave Rashford on the bench and call upon him only when necessary, he has used the young front man in 12 of United’s last 13 fixtures since his late winner at Hull City and has started him in nine of the last 11 during a 48-day period since mid-September.
Just as Louis van Gaal was forced into the trap of placing results above all else in the closing stages of 2015-16, Mourinho has been unwilling to give Rashford the kind of rest he originally seemed open to affording him as United have grown increasingly desperate for victories. And while there is now talk that Rashford is experiencing growing pains that could hamper his progress, the need to get United winning regularly again has seen him make the trip to Turkey for Thursday’s Europa League clash with Fenerbahce.
When United opened their campaign with back-to-back wins inspired by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the only real gripe their fans had was the underuse of Rashford. But his overuse should be just as big a concern for supporters, particularly since he is now regularly starting in a wide position, which demands a lot more work off the ball than a natural No.9 is used to.
Sir Alex Ferguson would often pinpoint games in which he could give his young stars a rest, whether they be Ryan Giggs, David Beckham or Paul Scholes, and Mourinho must find an effective way to ease the burden on his own fledgling. United simply cannot take Rashford for granted.