Rashford must step out from Rooney's shadow
Teenager must step from shadow of record-breaking striker
|HULL CITY||MAN UNITED|
In some respects, the monkey has jumped from one Manchester United player to another.
It's off Wayne Rooney's back. Now Marcus Rashford must bear the burden.
The cruel, cyclical nature of football presented itself within hours of Rooney scoring his record-breaking 250th goal for the club.
Sir Alex Ferguson was asked the inevitable question. Will Rashford ever surpass Rooney's achievement?
Rooney had barely enjoyed a day of accolades when he was already yesterday's news. It was out with the old and in with the Rashford.
Ferguson played diplomat, of course, suggesting club loyalists are dying in the modern game, making it difficult for any footballer to reach 250 goals with the same team.
But Rashford needs the loaded comparison like he needs more time on the bench.
What the 19-year-old really wants is a starting place at Hull tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and a chance to justify the Rooney connection.
The League Cup semi-final isn't a shop window for the teenager. Manager Jose Mourinho has already reiterated his desire to keep Rashford.
So the second leg should be viewed as an opportunity to narrow the gap between potential and pedigree.
Rashford must be flattered at being mentioned alongside a goal-scoring record-breaker for both club and country and it's easy to see why lazy comparisons are being made. The narrative is both neat and romantic.
One star rises as another falls. A striking baton is passed for United and England. It's a Disney song waiting to be written, the circle of a footballer's life and so forth.
DIFFERENT FIRST ACTS
But the Rooney reference is double-edged. Age links their initial storylines, but their first acts were quite different.
Despite his cherubic looks, Rashford is already 19, older than Rooney was when he moved to United, smashed a debut hat-trick, terrorised defences and started winning stuff.
Rashford, like Rooney, has always had the imposing physique of a much older adult, but not the end product. Rooney became a man among men much faster.
Rashford remains the boy wonder.
Just six goals in all competitions this season is not a statistic that readily appeals to the methodical, impatient Mourinho.
Earlier in the campaign, the United manager appeared to question his young forward's tenacity and turned away from him, but has recently championed the teenager's credentials again.
As always with Mourinho, there may be an ulterior motive.
United were mostly blunt, impotent and predictable against Stoke at the weekend. Rooney's late, dramatic equaliser, which extended the club's unbeaten run to 17 games, glossed over the attacking sloppiness.
Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic struggled to make an impact; such was the paucity of service and the overwhelming lethargy in United's build-up play.
The need for speed was self-evident, particularly against Stoke's rigid backline. But Rashford started on the bench.
And yet he almost broke the deadlock when he came on. In the 75th minute, he collected a cross from Rooney but curled his effort wide.
The missed opportunity perhaps underlined Mourinho's reluctance to make Rashford a regular starter.
Mourinho plays the percentages and Rashford still lacks polish in the penalty box.
His rawness prohibits the kind of consistency that his manager typically insists upon, hence Mourinho's reliance upon the 35-year-old Ibrahimovic.
But Rashford's unpredictability is hardly a risk against a limited Hull side already handicapped with a two-goal deficit and more concerned about Premier League survival. The plodding Tigers offer target practice.
Mourinho might also bear in mind that Ibrahimovic was bought to be one of his dramatic impact signings, those experienced instant successes that track down titles like wily sniffer dogs.
But United won't reach the EPL summit this season, even with Ibrahimovic scoring for fun. The short-term gamble didn't come off.
So there's no harm in giving the Swedish gunslinger the night off. Besides, the Swede is 35 and Rooney is 31.
United's future belongs to Rashford, but only if he takes care of the present.