The Marcus Rashford Revival 

External view of Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium
Matthew Boyd

This time last season, some were saying Marcus Rashford could be ‘finished’ at an elite level club. His revival has been truly remarkable. On the back of missing one of the deciding penalties of Euro 2021, Rashford’s 2021-22 season was disastrous. Matthew Boyd assesses what went wrong, and how the English icon turned it around. 

With four Premier League goals in 25 games, this was by far his lowest return since his breakthrough season of 2015-16. Beyond his impotency in front of goal, Rashford appeared to have lost a yard of his once frightening pace, with many putting this down to a buildup of disruptive injuries.  

In July 2021 it was announced that the Brit would be having surgery on a shoulder injury which had been plaguing him for 9 months previously. This kept him out of action until October, and was not exactly ideal preparation for the season.  

Poor performances resulted in Rashford losing his place in the England squad, with Southgate holding ‘crisis’ talks with him

The managerial and structural complications at Manchester United last season were unlikely to have helped the situation. The sacking of the tactically incompetent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November 2021 led to the temporary appointment of Ralf Rangnick. This appointment, in hindsight, looks to have been nonsensical. Poor performances resulted in Rashford losing his place in the England squad, with Southgate holding ‘crisis’ talks with him in March 2022.  

It is intriguing to draw a comparison between Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford’s performances last season. While many raised valid concerns over how Ronaldo’s presence negatively affected the overall dynamic of the squad, his immense self-confidence meant that, at 37, he remained the ultimate ‘big-game’ player. Scoring in vital victories in both domestic and European competitions, Ronaldo finished the season with an impressive 24 goals in all competitions, especially when considering Manchester United’s tumultuous season.  

In the same game where Ronaldo scored a remarkable hat-trick to help United beat Tottenham Hotspur, Rashford failed to complete any successful dribbles and was substituted in the 68th minute. In contrast to Ronaldo, Rashford’s performances were those of a player completely devoid of self-confidence. Worse than playing poorly, Rashford was consistently anonymous on the pitch.  

One can only imagine the culminating effect this would have had on his mental and emotional wellbeing

The effect that the private and personal lives of football players can have on their performances has often been overlooked. In May 2021, it was announced that Rashford and his high-school sweetheart, Lucia Loi, had broken up. After over four years together, this period would have been incredibly tough for Rashford. Along with the abhorrent racism he received after the Euro’s and shoulder surgery of the same summer, one can only imagine the culminating effect this would have had on his mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Remembering that football players are individuals with their own lives and problems no different to any of us, it is not hard to imagine how Rashford’s mindset may have influenced his poor form on the pitch.  

The contrast between last season and this has been more dramatic than any player that I can personally remember. As I write, Rashford has scored ten goals in ten league games since the World Cup break, along with important goals against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup semi-finals, and Barcelona in the Europa League Round of 16. He is on fire. Rashford looks quicker and stronger than ever, and, at only 25, has the world at his feet. 

The management of Erik Ten Hag has been key for his revival. Before this season, valid questions existed over Rashford’s best position, having consistently switched from playing as a winger and a sole striker during last season. Ten Hag has utilised Rashford almost entirely on the wing, in spite of United struggles in the striker position.

The stabilisation of his positioning has given Rashford more of a clear identity with regards to his style of play and allowed for a more concentrated development in his game. In December, Rashford himself noted that he believes that his best and favourite position is left-wing.  

Ten Hag recently stated that Rashford could become “unstoppable” if he continues to stay positive on the pitch and demonstrate the relevant dedication and desire to improve his skill set. Ten Hag’s ability as both an effective tactician and man-manager has provided the tools for Rashford to excel this season.  

Alongside a significant improvement in his ability to stay injury-free, Rashford is visibly stronger and quicker than he was last season

Rashford’s physical transformation has been pivotal to his overall improvement. Last summer, prior to pre-season, Rashford took himself off to the Nike HQ in Oregon, US, for specialist strength and fitness training. Sharing clips of his work and progression on social media, Rashford’s main focus was around his speed and explosiveness, attempting to revive the attributes that were previously key to his success. Alongside a significant improvement in his ability to stay injury-free, Rashford is visibly stronger and quicker than he was last season.  

On a personal level it would be naïve to suggest that Rashford’s reuniting with Lucia, who became his fiancé in May of last year, did not positively affect his emotional and mental state going into this season. Stability and confidence on and off the pitch has allowed Rashford to flourish. 

At times, Rashford’s incredible philanthropic work off the pitch has been linked to his poor performances on it, with many pleading him to ‘stick to football’. Associating Rashford’s staggering impact on many areas of society with his poor footballing performances belittles the significance of what he has achieved. Rashford’s poor form was not because of a lack of focus. There has never been a question about his attitude and dedication to the game.  

In spite of all the other contributing factors discussed, only one person is truly responsible for Rashford’s staggering upturn in form: the man himself. 

 Matthew Boyd

Featured image courtesy of Alessio Festa via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes were made to this image.  

In article image 1 courtesy of @marcusrashford via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.

In article image 2 courtesy of @marcusrashford via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.

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