There was a point in England’s recent glorious triumph over the mighty Slovakia where Marcus Rashford left the field, after single-handedly saving Gareth Southgate’s job over the past two games. As he did he exchanged high-fives with Danny Welbeck who replaced him and for many United fans it acted as a reminder of not just what is hopefully to come for the Reds, but also what might have been.
Welbeck was a player who at one point looked like having a bright future at United, one which with the right guidance and team around him could lead to legend. That may sound silly now for a player struggling to establish himself as a definite first choice striker in a side that’s struggling to establish itself as a definite top four challenger, but let’s not forget Welbeck was once loved not just because of his M13 postcode but because he’d shown enough glimpses of greatness to make us believe they would become more than fleeting.
There was the stunning debut strike, the decent loan spell at Sunderland and a headed goal in the Bernabeu that made more than a few Reds, myself included, believe it was only a matter of time before Danny became a mainstay of United’s attack, his cause helped by a series of impressive displays for England which included eight goals in a two year spell.
In many ways Rashford has emulated Welbeck’s early career but done it more quickly and more emphatically than his England team mate. While Welbeck edged his way into the United side, Rashford exploded onto it, while Welbeck showed some stunning ball control in fits and starts, Rashford showed it regularly, while Welbeck was fast, Rashford was faster and while Welbeck scored some goals early in his career, Rashford has scored more.
There was an issue with Welbeck that was undeniable, his finishing often deserted him and his overall goal scoring record was testimony to that, one season saw him manage just two goals in all competitions despite playing 40 times, although it should be noted the vast majority of those games were on the wing.
By the time he left United at the age of 24, Welbeck had managed 29 goals in over 140 games, a somewhat disappointing return for a player who at several times in his career, looked set to go on a run that would see him truly trouble the top scorer charts- it didn’t happen and he never managed to hit double figures in a single season in the league, although he did reach it twice in all competitions -just.
Rashford has more goals to his name at the age of 19 than Welbeck had reached by the time he was 23 but more importantly has an ability to beat players that his predecessor only showed in the odd moment rather than week in week out.
Many United fans have fallen in love with Marcus even harder than we fell for Danny, the general feeling being that Rashford is actually the player many of us wanted Welbeck to be. There’s a reminder though, that we saw briefly at Wembley as the ‘England’s new saviour’ was replaced by a man some believed would once carry that mantle, injuries, being played out of position and a lack of confidence at crucial moments can not only damage a career, but almost derail it if a youngster isn’t handled in the right way.
Fortunately for Rashford, Jose Mourinho seems to be managing him in the ideal manner, praising him when he needs it- during a barren spell in front of goal last season- and not being afraid to drop him when he feels both the player and the team will benefit. Let’s not forget, Rashford is something of a gift for his manager as he gives him the homegrown player the fans want to see without having to compromise the squad, it’s one main question many had regarding Jose – “will he give United’s academy players a chance” well thankfully for him Rashford has given him a get of jail free card on that front.
Rashford looks like the real deal, he’s certainly got the talent and if his career continues on its current trajectory, there’s every chance to think one day he’ll be mentioned in the same breath as the striker who left for Everton rather than the one who left for Arsenal.