Marcus Rashford, an eighteen-year-old starlet at Manchester United, may have taken an opportunity to showcase some characteristic giftedness. Other promising youngsters are as well emerging at present from the academy.
With circumstances at Old Trafford meaning the availability of players in many positions was bereft and striker Anthony Martial enduring a hamstring condition pre-match, Marcus Rashford was drafted into the starting line-up to play FC Midtjylland in the Europa league.
What seems to have ensued was a memorable debut for a player being thrust into action, Rasford’s enthusiasm animated the first team. Youngsters Joe Riley (19 years old) and Guillermo Varela (22) also started the game, Louis Van Gaal offering further opportunities and a significant improvement from the first leg display.
Although United conceded an early goal by Pione Sisto, the team seemed to have regathered collectively. Distinctive pace, hard work and tenacity, Rashford’s talents appeared evident early in the match, going on to contribute two goals in the second half meaning United triumphed 5-1. Old Trafford, often a crowd seemingly appreciating the performances of young prodigies, showed support to Rashford and this may have impelled greater confidence going into the match versus Arsenal.
The return of Arsenal in the premier league may have been anticipated as a different kettle of fish for the young striker, with many expecting an added challenge to the expertise of Midtjylland. However, Rashford rose to the challenge and put United into a commanding lead after scoring twice in three minutes in the 29th and 32nd minutes. Former United youth system product Danny Welbeck scored five minutes before half time, aiming to breed optimism into Arsenal going into the second half.
Half way through the second half Rashford entered the fray once again getting into the box and delivering an assist to Herrera, the Spaniard slotting home after a deflection off Laurent Koscielny for a 3-1 lead. Subsequently, Mezut Ozil scored a second for Arsenal in the 69th minute, an onslaught on the United goal persisted until the final whistle although a goal was absent. Rashford became the third youngest scorer for United in the premier league following Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck, highlighting the chances frequently given to youngsters at Old Trafford.
Guillermo Varela seemed to have another composed outing for United, 18-year-old Timothy Fosu-Mensah made his debut coming on in the 55 minute for Marcus Rojo, the player aiming with a physically self-assured performance another player with potential at the club. Louis Van Gaal gave 20-year-old James Weir a debut in the 95th minute, perhaps a personal milestone though minimal time to affect the game. Other youngsters aiming to show potential are Paddy McNair the Northern Ireland central defender, Joe Riley and 20-year-old Brazilian Andres Pereira, likewise demonstrate how a healthy crop of apprentices may be present.
Louis Van Gaal has wilfully given debuts to eleven academy players; Tyler Blackett, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Paddy McNair, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Donald Love, Andreas Perreira, Reece James, Saido Janko and Tom Thorpe. Locally, clubs appear to be cultivating and feeding new talent to the club, Rashford a product of the Fletcher Moss Rangers, where players like Danny Welbeck learnt a trade.
Add to this the talents of Memphis Depay, 22 years of age, Adnan Januzaj, 21, Anthony Martial, 20, Luke Shaw, 20 as well as the cultured David De Gea, 25 and Manchester United may have an enticing future. When departees; Paul Pogba, now considered one of the best midfielders in world football, Danny Welbeck and Ravel Morrison are added to the products of the academy, it may be even more remarkable.
Manchester United may have a concealed bounty of talent at the club’s disposal, the young players given opportunities at the present time seem to perform at high levels initially and seem to need limited maturation. Other more established players like Jesse Lingard played for England in November, demonstrating how the club may be producing talent regularly and the club may be about to profit from this footballing culture. Similarities to the class of ‘92 era are abundantly clear.
How do teams offer opportunities to young players when proven players perform at a high level?