When a talented player comes through the youth set-up, it’s easy for managers to keep them in the team, week in, week out. The player wants to feature, the fans love them, and especially at a club like Manchester United, they’re part of the tradition.
But with a new star emerging in the form of Marcus Rashford, Jose Mourinho is right to use him sparingly.
The ‘in at the deep end’ approach has been shown to have many drawbacks – with Adnan Januzaj a case in point.
The Belgian burst onto the scene during David Moyes’ stint as Red Devils boss, and after making his senior debut in August 2013 at the age of 18, he went on to play 34 more games in the campaign, including 20 starts, and a gruelling stint of 13 appearances between the start of December and end of January 2014.
In the moment, he looked an immensely exciting prospect for United fans. Five goals and eight assists in his inaugural season – along with some dazzling footwork – suggested bright things for the future.
However, that promise never materialised in the long-term. He may still be playing under Moyes, but is now doing so for relegation favourites Sunderland. Oh, and he’s scored once in 73 games since that first campaign at Old Trafford.
The problem? Attitude may be part of it, but the main factor is most likely to be burn-out.
That, and over-expectation. That’s a problem also faced by young hopes bursting into a club of United’s side, and whether it’s nerves or over-confidence, it’s hampered the likes of Federico Macheda, who’ve gone from unknown youngster to next-great-hope overnight.
So while some United fans are disappointed to see Rashford making few starts in 2017 – with most of his appearances coming off the bench – there’s little doubt that Mourinho is doing the right thing.
Not only does it save the 18-year-old from burning out, but he’s also come back refreshed after each break. Having been rested for a few key games in December, he returned to net in the 2-0 win over West Ham and twice in an Emirates FA Cup demolition of Reading, in the first week of January.
And a break from the first-team later that month was soon followed by a hugely impressive display – including an assist – in the 3-0 rout of Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford.
While a top-four finish is United’s immediate priority, they would risk long-term damage to the club’s brightest young prospect by putting too much of the emphasis on his shoulders right now.
Red Devils fans will want to see Rashford continuing to shine for years to come. To do that, their manager must avoid those pitfalls, and look also to the example of great English strikers like Robbie Fowler, who – played unrelentingly by Liverpool as a teenager – had lost his electric pace and dynamic edge by the time he hit 26.
So, whatever else happens between now and the end of the season, this is one matter Mourinho appears to have got spot on – even if it hasn’t always been the most popular approach with fans.
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