After Marcus Rashford scored England’s only two goals during this most recent international break, former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher said that Rashford may need to leave Manchester United in order to reach his potential. Carragher is frustrated over the young Englishman’s lack of first team minutes under United manager Jose Mourinho, and the former Liverpool man believes that he’ll only find consistent action away from Old Trafford.
It should come as no surprise that there are many fans who disagree with Carragher’s statement. Chief among them is Mourinho himself, who decided to take this matter publicly.
During his press conference this past week, Mourinho hit back at the criticism by calling the media “compulsive liars” and bringing the numbers to prove it.
“On the season 16-17, Marcus Rashford played 32 Premier League matches, 11 Europa League matches, including the final, three FA Cup matches, six League Cup matches including the final and the Community Shield. He had 53 appearances but if you want to take to the minutes of play, he played 3,068 and if you want to divide that by 90 minutes of the matches, he played 34.2 matches of 90 minutes.
“In 17-18, he played 35 Premier League matches, eight in Champions League, five in FA Cup including the final, three League Cup matches and the European Super Cup final. He played a total of 52 matches with 2,676 minutes, if you divide that by 90, it gives 29.7 matches, so with me, in two seasons, he had 105 appearances, 5,744 minutes, 63.7 matches of 90 minutes, including five finals, so the people that is speaking about these minutes, I think they are a bit confused.”
This is truly some Trump-esque numbers spinning by Mourinho. Yes, it’s very easy to say that Rashford has made more appearances than anyone else. It’s easy to say that he’s playing the equivalent of 30-ish matches a season. But anyone who knows the game knows that those numbers ring entirely hollow.
Here’s the truth behind those numbers.
Since Mourinho became United’s manager, Rashford has made 70 appearances in the Premier League. Of those 70 games, Rashford has started just 34, less than half his appearances. In Rashford’s 34 starts, he’s played the full 90 minutes only 18 times, with seven of those 18 coming because Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Romelu Lukaku were unavailable due to either injury or suspension. The remaining nine full games he played have come as a left winger, which is not Rashford’s natural position.
As we all know, whether you play 90 minutes in a match or one minute you still get credited with one appearance. Since Rashford has made several appearances that were less than 20 minutes, using that as a measure to show how much he’s playing is just as hollow as belting out a list of 55 players that Mourinho had given a debut to, when after giving them their debut Mourinho didn’t exactly give these players many more chances.
It would be wrong to say that Mourinho has never given Rashford chances. For the first year and a half, Mourinho did give Rashford chances (albeit out of his preferred position). He was also smart in that in games where Rashford didn’t start, he’d bring him on as a sub, inflating the appearance number that Mourinho could point at to show off how much he was playing.
But that all changed last January when United signed Alexis Sanchez. After Alexis signed, Rashford started just four more league games all season, two of which because Lukaku was missing. In those four starts, he scored three goals.
Mourinho was smart to divide Rashford’s total minutes by 90, but even then it’s easy to see through it. Everyone knows that playing 35 minutes here, another 25 there, 20 more the following week followed by a 10 minute cameo is not the same as playing a full 90 minutes. For Mourinho to suggest that this is the equivalent of playing a whole game, it’s as if he’s trying to play us for fools.
Mourinho of course has his backers. The Manchester Evening News ran an article saying “here is definitive proof that Mourinho is spot on about Rashford” where they took the numbers at face value. Other fans will claim that Rashford gets plenty of chances but his production doesn’t merit any more playing time.
When it comes to production, perhaps the question to ask is, how much should Rashford be expected to produce? Since Anthony Martial made his United debut in 2015, no player has scored more goals for United than Martial. But like Rashford, Martial can’t even buy a game under Mourinho.
Those who suggest that Rashford and Martial aren’t good enough right now to be first choice players on a team competing for the title aren’t necessarily wrong, but they’re certainly not right either.
Rashford is still just 20 years old, Martial is 22. Both will be 20 goal per season scorers in the future. The fact that they aren’t there yet is totally OK, but they need to play.
Robert Lewandowski was 22 when he made his debut for Dortmund. He scored just eight goals that year but he was a first choice starter the entire season. His first 20 goal season came at 23. The great Lionel Messi was 21 when he had his first 20 goal La Liga season, and that came after three years of consistently starting for Barcelona’s first team.
And how could United fans forget Cristiano Ronaldo. When Sir Alex Ferguson bought him, he wasn’t ready to lead the team to the title but he was still a first choice starter. It wasn’t until his fourth season with the club that he had a season with double digit goals.
Those players became great because they got the chances to learn at a young age. Right now, United probably can’t win the title with Marcus Rashford playing every game, but they also won’t win it with Alexis Sanchez there instead. By playing him now, United would reap the benefits of that later.
Rashford has always been a big game player. He scored goals in every debut he’s made for club and country with the exception of the FA Cup. Of his 17 career Premier League goals, seven of them have come against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool. He’s a big game player who’s only missing a little more consistency to his game, which is a trait that can only come with experience.
Jose Mourinho can spin the numbers all he wants to support his argument but those numbers will still be hollow. There’s one truth here and it’s simple. Marcus Rashford isn’t playing as much as he should be.