Can Marcus Rashford become the best in the world?

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  • Post published:September 20, 2023

Marcus Rashford has benefited from the experience of Benni McCarthy at Manchester United. Can he become the best in the world? By Nick Said.

There was a time last season when Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford was banging in the goals and pundits began to call him the best player in the world – ahead of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and his former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.

It should be stressed that they were giving him that label “on current form”, as he went through an incredible purple patch that saw him end the season with 30 goals from 56 appearances.

Maybe they were stretching the narrative a bit, but at the age of 25, does Rashford have the potential to reach those heights? And will it be a South African who gets him there?

The England forward was in a slump before the start of last season. No one could deny that. He scored only five goals in the entire 2021/22 campaign, a dismal return.

But two things happened to change his fortunes. First came manager Erik ten Hag from Ajax Amsterdam, followed closely by former Bafana Bafana inter- national Benni McCarthy, whose role in the technical team is to work with the strikers specifically.

McCarthy was, of course, a fine striker in his day, and he looks to be an equally good coach. Rashford has been quite impressed with the implementation and ideas he has brought to Old Trafford.

“Benni has been great with me,” Rashford told SuperSport, “and with all the forward lads. You have to remember that Benni is part of a full coaching system, so everyone plays their roles … for the forward lads, Benni is that extra bit on top that we need.

“We speak a lot. We are always analysing the games and he’s showing me ways to improve. You know, small things that can help me make more chances, more goals, maybe create space for other players as well. We are doing a lot of work.”

Ten Hag agrees that McCarthy has managed to get the best out of Rashford, who has also worked hard on his fitness.

“I thought we needed one on the staff who is specific and responsible for strikers. Benni is doing a good job”, Ten Hag said. “I think the staff has a good balance and we do it together, it’s not only about Benni McCarthy, all have specific jobs in our staff. There’s a good vibe, they challenge each other, it’s a total package; it’s not about one person.”

But the United manager says he expects more from Rashford in this 2023/24 season and has challenged him to score 40 goals.

“With Marcus, there’s a lot of room for improvement in his game and I’m convinced he could score even more,” Ten Hag said.

“I think when you take for instance the last 10 games (last season), he didn’t score so many goals, I think only two or three. He can improve, but I’m happy with where he was and what he did now, and that he has brought himself back.

“We supported him where we could with the way of play, but also in his mental mindset. So we are happy with that, but we have to push for more.

“I’m sure he’s capable of scoring 40 goals in the season and to make also for him the next step.”

Ten Hag may have challenged Rashford to score more goals, but the player himself says he would prefer to play on the left wing rather than as a centre-forward, potentially limiting his chances a bit.

“Left (wing) makes it easier to stay in the game. When I was younger, I always wanted to be involved in the game, and that’s why I think I struggle with playing centre-forward sometimes, because of my patience”, he said on The Overlap.

“You might not touch the ball for 20 minutes and then your first touch might be an opportunity to score. You have to be mentally switched on. It’s almost like a goalkeeper; you might be in the game for God knows how long, but when it’s time to make a save, then you have to make it.

“I never enjoyed that aspect of it (playing centre-forward) but as I’ve got older, I’m starting to enjoy it a little bit more.”