For the second time in less than three months, Marcus Rashford is making headlines for the wrong reasons after an ill-advised night out.
“When you want to play top football, it demands a certain way of life, always,” said Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag on Wednesday. “The player has to know what is good and not good. I don’t have to educate them anymore. When you are playing for Manchester United, they should know.”
It was as recently as October that Rashford privately apologised to the club after he was seen in Manchester city centre at a party arranged for his birthday hours after a humiliating 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford by Manchester City.
There was an unfortunate echo in the statement issued by United on Monday night after Rashford had met Ten Hag and football director John Murtough at United’s Carrington training ground much earlier in the day.
“Marcus has taken responsibility for his actions,” it said. “This has been dealt with as an internal disciplinary matter, which is now closed.”
Rashford missed training on Friday – in the hours after a second night out in Belfast and an early morning flight to Manchester – with what United sources said was illness.
He has now returned to training and is in contention for selection at Wolves on Thursday.
More questions than answers have been raised by the events of the past few days when it comes to Rashford’s relationship with Ten Hag and the trajectory of the England forward’s career.
What is the state of Rashford and Ten Hag’s relationship?
Asked on Wednesday about whether the latest episode was a test of his authority, Ten Hag replied it had “nothing to do with the relationship with me and Marcus”.
And Ten Hag will know dealing with issues like this comes with the ticket of being a manager.
Former United skipper Gary Neville has advised Rashford to choose his nights out, which seems like sensible advice that, presumably, Ten Hag would endorse.
But the big question is: how much is Rashford listening?
Ironically, he was dropped for United’s last visit to Wolves – on 31 December 2022 – when he overslept and was late for a team meeting. After coming on as a substitute and scoring the winning goal, he spoke on TV after the game and admitted he had made “a mistake”.
However, that public admission, nor the Man City fallout, prevented what happened in Belfast, which raises obvious questions about Rashford’s relationship with his manager.
It is known Ten Hag’s staff have tried to get close to Rashford in an attempt to guide him out of his slump in form, but the forward has seemed distant, which makes communication difficult.
There are concerns at the potentially draining mental effect a nine-year career at the highest level, when he has often been United’s only regular source of goals, is having on the player.
Whether there is any validity to those worries is not clear.
Ten Hag said: “Of course it is part of the job to support your players but also we have people in this club who help the players on that. But when you are a player at Man Utd you have to manage yourself and take responsibility for your performance in the team. At Man Utd, it is all about winning football matches. It is simple.”
|‘Pressures’ are described by Opta as being applied directly to the ball carrier or indirectly to potential receivers – characterised by the pressing player’s speed, direction of movement, and distance from the opponent.
Could Rashford leave Man Utd?
Ineos – it is being stressed – played no active part in the discussions around Rashford, which were left to Ten Hag, Murtough and interim chief executive Patrick Stewart.
But it is also acknowledged new directors Sir Dave Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc and Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe were kept abreast of the situation.
The episode is bound to feed into their overall assessment of the club, which is being pieced together for when Ratcliffe’s 25% purchase is ratified next month and their work can really begin.
Questions have been asked of Ten Hag – who was brought to the club to restore discipline – why his treatment of Rashford differs from that of Jadon Sancho, who is currently on loan at Borussia Dortmund after failing to apologise for a social media claim he was being made a ‘scapegoat’.
“Jadon chose to go public,” he said on Wednesday. The same is also true of Cristiano Ronaldo, who had his contract ripped up following his explosive interview with Piers Morgan in November 2022, when he said he had no respect for Ten Hag.
The United manager’s position is not rock solid. United are outside the top eight and have not finished a full campaign as low as that since 1989-90.
Yet Rashford’s status is equally questionable. Until he scored twice in the past three games, he had scored only twice this season.
According to Opta, of the 17 outfield players to have completed more than 500 minutes for United this season, Rashford’s distance covered per 90mins is joint lowest – with Harry Maguire – on 9.7km.
Rashford is arguably the club’s prize financial asset and only signed a contract to 2028 in July last year. By far the easiest option is that he remains where he is.
But, whether Ten Hag stays as manager or not, there are only so many times players can go the wrong side of the line before it is decided they are not worth the bother. That would ultimately be an Ineos call.
Plenty of clubs would be interested in Rashford. But how many could afford his £325,000-a-week wages?
There is a long-established link with Paris St-Germain, but as long as Kylian Mbappe remains at the club, there is no space for Rashford. And even if, as expected, Mbappe leaves for Real Madrid, it is not thought Rashford would be top of the list of replacements.
Barcelona’s financial situation would appear to make the idea of paying a large fee with high wages fanciful, and while Serie A’s highest earners – Dusan Vlahovic, Lautaro Martinez and Victor Osimhen – earn big money, Rashford’s salary is higher.
Remaining in the Premier League would clearly be an option but which of the leading clubs would be interested?
What is beyond dispute is Ten Hag needs the 26-year-old – or at least he needs the one who scored 30 goals last season – if his team are to haul themselves up the Premier League to something approaching Champions League contention.
What happens now?
Rashford earned the respect of most of the nation for the manner in which he forced the government into changing policy to ensure children in receipt of free school meals were properly looked after during lockdown.
He was rewarded with numerous personal accolades, including being made an MBE. He was named Campaigner of the Year in 2020 by GQ magazine and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Manchester.
But that has to go alongside his professional life.
Accompanying Rashford in his meeting with Murtough and Ten Hag this week was his step-brother Dwaine Maynard, who also acts as his advisor.
Some leading agents are dismissive of family members being used as representatives. Rashford does have other, highly respected industry figures, who help with his profile as well. They are all responsible for delivering the right messages and trying to filter the noise from external voices.
As most have observed, Rashford’s talent is unquestioned. It needs to show itself on a more consistent basis and for that, he needs to stop making the headlines for the wrong reasons.