Why Marcus Rashford is the big loser in Romelu Lukaku's move to Manchester United

Brendon Netto 15:54 10/07/2017
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Marcus Rashford was seemingly the biggest winner from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s knee injury last season.

He finally had a clear run as a central striker and more or less rose to the challenge, with his free-kick against Celta Vigo paving the way for Manchester United’s return to the Champions League.

Yet he may one day regret the moment that Ibrahimovic collapsed on to the turf in agony against Anderlecht in April.

The scenario up to then had been perfect for Rashford – learning from one of the greatest strikers to ever grace the game but knowing that his time was coming, as not even a 35-year-old Zlatan would last forever.

The Swede had played himself into a second contract and in another year, two years maximum, a physically mature and more experienced Rashford could take over as the main man through the middle.

Sure, he may have had to play many of his minutes on the left, but the 19-year-old from Wythenshawe was literally waiting in the wings as the best talent to emerge from Manchester since the class of 1993.

But that twist of the knee set a big-money transfer in motion as Jose Mourinho, not one to worry obsessively over the future, was never going to entrust Rashford as his main goalscorer.

07 11 Marcus Rashford (1)

Rashford excels as a striker

Instead United have bought the polished product in Romelu Lukaku – who faced an eerily similar situation under Mourinho at Chelsea three years ago – as they cannot afford to wait and buff up their own gem.

Three choices now present themselves to Rashford. Feed on scraps as a centre forward and hope a £90m signing flops, reinvent himself as a wide forward in the long term, or seriously consider a future away from United.

OPTION 1: DISMOUNT LUKAKU AS THE MAIN STRIKER

Option one seems a rather depressing long shot. Lukaku is the archetypal Mourinho centre forward – if Jose could design his perfect player he could hardly have dreamt up anyone more suited: muscular, superb in the air, a clinical finisher with an underrated work ethic.

Think Didier Drogba and Diego Costa at Chelsea. Ibrahimovic at Inter and, of course, United. Gonzalo Higuain at Real Madrid, who when injured Mourinho lamented ‘if I can’t hunt with a dog I will hunt with a cat’, in a swipe at the ‘feline’ Karim Benzema’s abilities.

Lukaku would therefore have to be a monumental failure for Mourinho to even consider dropping him for Rashford down the middle. Indeed Rashford’s versatility may well seal his fate, as there is more chance of seeing Ryan Giggs running down the left for United again than Lukaku being forced out wide.

Alvaro Morata, who had presumably been the man to fill the void left by Ibrahimovic, has played across the forward line for Juventus and Real Madrid and that fluidity could eventually have played into Rashford’s hands.

Goal machine: Romelu Lukaku averaged a Premier League goal every 130 minutes for Everton last season.

On the Marc: Lukaku will likely force Rashford wide for the foreseeable future.

OPTION 2: TRANSFORM INTO A WINGER

Option two is Rashford’s most realistic option but carries a risk of further marginalisation. Mourinho has not yet given up his pursuit on Ivan Perisic, whose natural position is on the left wing, and Anthony Martial is another young gun likely to suffer.

Even if Rashford did win more than a rotational berth out wide, he has the enviable task of learning on the job at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

His whirlwind feet and knack of dribbling in tight spaces are two requisite qualities for a winger but too many times last season he failed to pick out the right man, or cross with enough whip on his weaker left foot.

Potential he may have in abundance, but he is not a wide playmaker like Christian Eriksen, a classic winger like Leroy Sane, or as yet a goal-getter like Sadio Mane. As it stands United’s Premier League rivals possess superior options before we even get to Chelsea talisman Eden Hazard.

Just what type of winger will Rashford become – and would that be enough for a team chasing trophies?

The statistics tell all you need to know as, when playing as a wide forward, Rashford needs nearly 100 minutes more than as a central striker to either score or make an assist.

He’s already suffering for England as he looked as if he needed a how-to manual when stuck out on the right wing to make space for Harry Kane in last month’s 2-2 draw with Scotland.

Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford

OPTION 3: LEAVE UNITED

The third option, and his most difficult one, would be to leave Old Trafford. Lukaku developed as the main man at Everton. Morata flourished for Juventus and came back all the better for it, though may now have to leave Madrid for the second time.

The other red-hot young striker who is being pegged for a summer move is Andrea Belotti, and his success down to regular game time at a ‘best of the rest’ Serie A club in Torino.

And nearly two decades ago, a prodigiously talented Thierry Henry opted for a move to Arsenal while being frustrated at Juventus – when playing on the left.

For now, Rashford need not rush into any decision. But Lukaku’s signing has risked slamming one door shut for a young player who deserves to have every option at his feet.

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