If you believe everything you read in Spanish newspapers, Marcus Rashford is on Barcelona’s radar.
That is Marcus Rashford who last season scored 10 goals for Manchester United in the Premier League. Seem like a stretch? It may well be.
But there are two ways of looking at the Wythenshawe 21–year-old’s record. The first, if you are of a critical persuasion, is to point out that such a return is a million miles away from the top flight’s elite.
There was a three-way tie at the peak of the domestic scoring charts between Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Each of those three managed to net 22 times – more than twice as many as Rashford.
Then came City’s Sergio Aguero, on 21, Leicester’s Jamie Vardy on 18 and both Aguero’s team-mate Raheem Sterling and Tottenham’s Harry Kane on 17. None of the above would come as a real surprise.
However, a look further down the list would suggest that this was not Rashford’s finest year. Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson and Brighton’s 35-year-old Glenn Murray (13) were both above the homegrown forward, as were Burnley’s Ashley Barnes and Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic (12), not to mention Newcastle’s Salomon Rondon and relegated Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic (both 11).
There is another way of looking at it.
The perception at Old Trafford is that this was a season ruined by negative tactics and a staggering lack of fitness.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes that the immediate bounce provided when he replaced Jose Mourinho was a result of the players’ ability to carry out his high-energy style to a tee.
The Norwegian believes the subsequent cliff fall was down to that lack of fitness hitting home. Around that honeymoon period, Rashford scored six times in eight starts, a return which marked the best form of his career.
Those who believe in Rashford could also point to his England form. Three goals in six games, including a key strike in Spain, would suggest that the player is not the problem. Under Gareth Southgate’s guidance, Rashford has often looked reborn on national duty.
His age remains a factor. Given the amount of time he has spent in and around the first team it is easy to forget that this is still a young player. Whatever side you take, there can be no denying that this a huge year awaits. A conclusion will be easier to reach at the end of it.
Unless it was mind games, Solskjaer is confident. Last season, admittedly following prompting from reporters, he challenged Rashford to become United’s all-time leading scorer. The current holder, Wayne Rooney, holds that title, with 253 goals.
If that is to be the case then Solskjaer’s employers will need to sort out a new contract. Insiders say that the interest from Barcelona amounts to the club monitoring the form and progress of a player who burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old four years ago.
Rashford’s existing deal expires next year although there is an option to extend for a further year. Attempts to lengthen his stay with a long-term agreement are currently ongoing.
Solskjaer is keen to get it sorted. He wants to build his team around the likes of Rashford and Paul Pogba. Much will also depend on the situation with Romelu Lukaku. Solskjaer has previously said that he believes Lukaku and Rashford could strike a lethal partnership.
In theory, that makes sense. The Belgian provides the muscle and presence while Rashford adds the pace and panache.
It has not often worked out like that. Lukaku’s future remains in the air. Should he go, Rashford is likely to take ownership of the role in the centre, although a look at the scoring charts would suggest that not playing in the middle cannot be used as an excuse.
Fitness will also have an impact. Rashford bleeds United red. There were suggestions on occasions last season that he was playing through the pain barrier when rest may have been a wiser option. If he can stay injury free then his record should improve.
Whatever unfolds, Rashford will need to score more than 11 Premier League goals. This needs to be his year.