Paul Merson has warned Marcus Rashford not to “ruin his career”, while Chris Sutton says the Manchester United forward’s trip to Belfast was “unforgivable”, as Erik ten Hag prepares to reintegrate the player into his squad on Thursday evening.
Ten Hag said top players should not have to be reminded what is acceptable as the United boss looks to move on from Rashford’s much-reported Northern Ireland escapade.
Having scored 30 goals for the Red Devils in 2022-23, things have gone awry this term and the forward’s paltry four-goal haul has been compounded by some off-field matters.
Ten Hag called Rashford’s decision to go to a party after October’s derby defeat to Manchester City “unacceptable” and stories emerged in recent days of more late-night exploits.
The 26-year-old is reported to have gone out in Belfast last Thursday night until 3am and was unable to train the following day through illness, going on to miss Sunday’s FA Cup win at Newport.
Sky Sports pundit Sutton believes Rashford must now take more responsibility for his actions – and has called on the forward to focus on what he does best.
Sutton told Sky Sports: “We all know he’s a talented player but he’s lost his way in recent times. Erik ten Hag called him out and I thought that him going over to Belfast is a big issue. I thought it was unforgivable.
“It’s his third offence and his third misdemeanour. Every player knows where the line is and Marcus Rashford crossed that line. I thought it was disrespectful to the manager and disrespectful to his team-mates.
“The culture in the Manchester United dressing room hasn’t been right for a while. From the outside, we’ve seen the Jadon Sancho stuff.
“We saw how Ten Hag dealt with Cristiano Ronaldo last season and at the end of that I thought that would be it, the manager won that battle, and I thought that everything would settle down.
“That hasn’t been the case and the performances on the pitch haven’t helped as Manchester United have struggled.
“There needs to be a certain amount of discipline in the dressing room and in most dressing rooms I’ve played in, they’ve policed themselves, but at this moment in time, it seems to be a problem.
“I suspect Rashford may outlast Ten Hag but he needs to get back to doing what he does best which is performing on the pitch with a Euros coming up.”
Rashford is not the first player to face internal disciplinary proceedings, with Jadon Sancho banished from September and Cristiano Ronaldo released by mutual agreement during Ten Hag’s first season.
Ten Hag brushed aside questions about whether the Rashford situation was a distraction or a test of his authority, but did speak about the difference to his handling of Sancho.
Merson: Southgate won’t like Belfast trip
Ten Hag has used the phrase “case closed” repeatedly, including when asked outright about Rashford’s reaction and whether the player had apologised for his actions.
The Dutchman was more forthcoming on the obligations for elite players and the onus being on them to maintain high standards, underlining the need for accountability, but said he takes potential matters going on behind the scenes into consideration when dealing with player behaviour.
Merson told Sky Sports: “I back a lot of players because you don’t know what is going on in their minds, you don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. But you can’t miss training. You can’t.
“I remember when I was 17 and I went out with my cousin’s boyfriend and I didn’t get up for work in the morning – and my dad told me off so badly. I was 17 or 18 and he said: ‘Do not ever miss training’. I never missed another day’s training in my life, even when I went out.
“I was getting back at 6am and I still went to training out of respect. Not just for me, who had lost all respect, but for my team-mates and my manager. I can’t back him on that, when you hear he was put back to bed at 3am.
“The lad has got the biggest talent in the world. Last year, he was unplayable. This year, I think I could do as well as him this season. Football is a short career, and the way the game is changing now – he only has four or five years left before he’s 30 tops and you can party as much as you want. Don’t ruin it, don’t ruin it.
“I think he’s made a mistake – and I know he’s made a few – but he can play. With Jadon Sancho, he was someone who didn’t get going and didn’t really turn it on. He proved that last season.
“But he’s got to be careful. With Sancho, Man Utd had seen enough of him and said: ‘he’s not going to take us places’. With turning up late, Rashford has just got to get his head down.
“It’s a short career and it soon goes. With Gareth Southgate, he’s a disciplinarian. I know him, he was my captain at Villa and he doesn’t like at that – the not turning up.
“You’ve got England, who I think will win the Euros this summer, so you’ve got to be there. You can make history. Gareth knows the players, he ain’t one of those managers who talks to you only when you turn up to England training.
“I read the Kyle Walker story this week and Gareth rang him up. If he thinks Rashford will win him the Euros, even just a little bit, then he will go. If he doesn’t – and Ten Hag didn’t think Sancho will take him anywhere – then he won’t.
“He is young, 26. If I had known that when I was younger, it would have been a different story.”
Rashford decline: What do the stats say?
Sky Sports statistician Jayant Ganju:
It was not long ago Marcus Rashford was leading Manchester United to their first silverware in six years. His 30 goals last season were bettered only by Harry Kane and Erling Haaland among Premier League players.
He scored 16 more goals than any team-mate last season. However, this season, four Manchester United players have scored more goals than him, and he is having one of his worst seasons on and off the field.
The 26-year-old’s shots on target per 90 minutes have halved and his conversion rate has also fallen drastically compared to last season.
Interestingly, he is having more touches in the opposition box per 90, which means he is getting into goalscoring positions more often.
Additionally, the frequency of his completed dribbles has remained almost identical, so he is having similar success at taking on defenders as he did in previous, more fruitful campaigns.
The main issue this season is his shooting accuracy. His goals per 90, shots on target per 90 and conversion rate are the lowest they have been in any previous Premier League season.
Rashford on collision course with INEOS, not just Ten Hag
Marcus Rashford will mark eight years in the Manchester United first team next month. Seen as the reference point, it’s time to start acting like it again, writes Melissa Reddy.
Read the full feature here
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