Marcus Rashford comes of age on Wednesday when he celebrates his 21st birthday. Given his achievements since his senior debut in February 2016 it feels almost bizarre to think that his 18th passed off without too many people even knowing who he was.
These days he is a 29-cap England international, the veteran of a World Cup and a European Championship, a two-time FA Cup finalist with one winner’s medal, a League Cup winner and Europa League champion. Oh, and there is the small matter of his 133 appearances and 33 goals for United before he has even become a man.
It perhaps says much about the potential Rashford has already demonstrated that United boss Jose Mourinho recently had to publicly defend his use of the front man, such was the clamour for a youngster who has achieved so much before turning 21 to feature even more regularly.
“Marcus Rashford is not Dominic Solanke,” said Mourinho. “He is not Ruben Loftus-Cheek, he is not Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He is Marcus Rashford, a Manchester United player, with an incredible number of appearances and an incredible number of minutes played at the highest level in the best possible competitions.”
More on @MarcusRashford : "With me [as manager] in two seasons, he's had 105 appearances, 5,744 minutes, 63.7 matches of 90 minutes, including five finals. An incredible number of appearances at the highest level." #MUFC— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 14, 2018
Many fans want to see Rashford used more often, such is the way modern football is judged. Since his remarkable two-goal debuts against Midtjylland in the Europa League and Arsenal in the Premier League, it is considered by some that the Wythenshawe product is a centre-forward at heart who has been misused of late.
But to have that view is to discard a number of salient points, not least that Rashford is developing into a multiple-tool forward who is about far more than his ability to find the net. Just as he played all across the front line in his youth career, the England star has proved adaptable to whatever his club and country have needed at the top level.
And when you look at what other players had achieved when turning 21, it is clear that Rashford remains well ahead of the curve despite what some impatient onlookers would consider slow progress of late.
Taking Mourinho’s examples into account Loftus-Cheek, who turns 23 in January, has played only 62 times as a top flight player so far while Calvert-Lewin has tallied 12 goals in 61 games and is eight months Rashford’s elder. And Solanke, who celebrated his 21st birthday in September, has eight goals in 54 Premier League appearances. Those three combined also have 10 international caps to Rashford’s 29.
Dig back further and you will find that Alan Shearer had 98 appearances and 22 goals at Marcus’ age before going on to score a Premier League record 260 times among his 409 total career goals. And Andy Cole, whose feats will never be forgotten by Manchester United and Newcastle United, had made two senior appearances for Arsenal before dropping down the leagues and spent his 21st birthday as a Bristol City player in the equivalent of the Championship.
Some, of course, have racked up bigger numbers than Rashford by the same age. United legend Sir Bobby Charlton played only his 59th game for the Reds on the day he turned 21 yet had bagged 38 goals in that time, while Wayne Rooney’s 55 goals in 177 appearances in senior football before coming of age underlined his position as one of England’s greatest-ever prodigies.
Another record-breaking youngster, Michael Owen, had 68 goals from his 131 club appearances at Liverpool by the age of 21 but had netted eight goals in 24 caps for England, both marks falling short of Rashford’s current tally. His huge volume of games in a short space of time would also eventually help to curtail his career at a relatively young age.
So even though many are becoming frustrated by some apparent lack of progress, Rashford’s stats are comparable, and in some cases favourable, with many wonderful forwards over the years. Add in the fact that the United man is now largely playing from a deeper and wider position than many of those pure centre-forwards and there can be no doubt that he is on track to become a great of the Premier League era.In the daily glare of the modern world, the wider context can often get lost. And in the case of Marcus Rashford, Manchester United and England have a player who is exactly where he needs to be whatever the background noise.