Man Utd: Why practice could make perfect for Marcus Rashford – Pat Nevin
Marcus Rashford’s stunning free-kick means Manchester United have the advantage after the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo.
United’s 1-0 victory in Spain means they are heavy favourites to clinch a place in the final in next week’s return at Old Trafford.
We already knew he was a pacey and skilful striker but Rashford’s winner took many people by surprise, including Celta Vigo goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez.
Could the 19-year-old add even more facets to his game to fulfil his full potential, and how will he do it?
Pat Nevin, who was co-commentating on the game for BBC Radio 5 live, explains why Rashford should look to Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo for inspiration to improve, and how his set-piece ability is already reminiscent of another Old Trafford legend.
Bending it like Beckham
Nevin: “If I may steal a line off 5 live commentator John Murray, who I was working with on Thursday night, when we watched Rashford’s free-kick again off-air he said it was like one of David Beckham’s.
“He was right. Rashford’s body shape and even the position of his foot when the ball left his boot was exactly like Beckham’s.
“That was really surprising because very few people hit a ball the way Beckham does – he has a very unique technique.
“When he was asked about what his secret with free-kicks was, Beckham always said it was just down to practise, and the time he spent to get every part of executing them exactly right.
“To hear United boss Jose Mourinho talk after the Celta Vigo game about how Rashford has been working on that area of his game too, thinking he will be ready when his chance comes, then you have to applaud it.
“That is the kind of approach you need to get to the very top, no matter how talented you are.
“Look at where Cristiano Ronaldo was in his early days at United, and the player he has become.
“That didn’t happen because Ronaldo kind of muddled along thinking he was quite good already, it happened because he worked on every imaginable area of his game.
“I am not saying Rashford is going to reach the same heights as Ronaldo, but that is who he should look up to if he is going to be as good as he can be.
“It mirrors the comments made by England manager Gareth Southgate this week about whether young players are hungry enough.
“When you see someone like Rashford, it is right to want to push him even more – you don’t want him to think he has made it, and stop putting the work in to improve. By the sounds of it, that is not an issue he has to worry about.”
You can learn the gift of goalscoring
Nevin: “I was talking about areas where Rashford could improve when I said on 5 live that I don’t think he is a natural goalscorer.
“A lot of people might tell you that is a gift, not something you can learn as a player – but I think it is.
“Rashford might have scored the winner on Thursday but he needs to do the same every week and, if you look at his scoring statistics, they are not spectacular.
“Yes, he is a good goalscorer but not necessarily someone who will get you 20 goals a season.
“He is not up there with a strike-rate of a goal every two games, and we saw again against Celta Vigo that he does miss chances.
“There is something he can do to change that, which is to practise and practise his finishing – all the time, from every single angle and every single position.
“It is not something that will improve overnight but if he does it enough then it could become second nature.
“Now, it may never happen – he may never become that kind of player who puts chances away without thinking about it.
“But if he works at it, like I think he will, he might make that change. He would not be the first player to manage it, either, because Thierry Henry is a great example of someone who did make that transition.
“Henry played wide for a long, long time and was seen not as a winger but as a wide attacker.
“Rashford has already got all the tools he needs to do that. He will score some goals from those areas too, but that does not mean he has to spend the rest of his career out there.”
Skilful, quick and brave – but is that enough?
Nevin: “When I talk about natural strikers, I mean guys like Tottenham’s Harry Kane who just seem to keep on putting the ball in the back of the net and score lots of easy goals.
“I do not expect Rashford to be doing that now – in any case, there are other reasons he is such an exciting talent – but he can still become that player too.
“We kind of chase after headlines whenever anyone criticises a talented player and I think it’s important to emphasise that is not what I am looking for here – I am not being negative, because I think Rashford is a brilliant player who is skilful, quick and brave.
“But to be a centre-forward for Manchester United is the absolute pinnacle, one of the top positions in the whole of world football – and to be the first choice to lead their attack, you have to be one of the absolute best there is.
“The bar is ridiculously high, but that is where he is aiming and, you know what, I think he can make it.”
The very top players need the right attitude too
Nevin: “As well as working hard, Rashford will need a lot of mental strength to make it to the very top.
“Watching him against Celta Vigo, he showed exactly the right attitude that is required, even when things did not go well for him.
“Shortly before he scored, he missed a chance that he should have done a lot better with, when his shot almost hit the corner flag.
“But his head never dropped and his approach never changed. He chased, he harried and he kept running. Yes, he made mistakes but he did a lot right as well.
“His attitude was exactly what Mourinho wants to see from every single other player in the United squad, and it is especially impressive when you consider the difficult season he has had.
“Rashford has been played in different positions and has gone long spells without starting a game or scoring a goal, but he has never sulked – he just gets on with it.
“I think Mourinho looks at that and thinks ‘right, you have had a tough time, and I have even had a dig at you now and again, and you have come back with that attitude – you will do for me’.
“I have no doubt he has made himself one of Jose’s players because he has shown that, not only is he willing to learn, he can react to whatever is thrown at him too, positive or negative.
“Mourinho always likes his players to have a big personality as well as ability and Rashford has already shown he has got bucketloads of both.
“But if he is going to become one of the great players, then he has to find out where his weaknesses are, and now is the time to brush up on those parts of his game.
“I have a suspicion that he will be used as a wide attacker, like Henry, for a few years to come, but will eventually become a top-line centre-forward.
“Rashford is definitely working under the right manager for that to happen and if that is his career trajectory, then I think everyone will be happy.
Pat Nevin was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan