It’s a well-worn cliche that a week is a long time in both politics and football. And few have had longer weeks than Marcus Rashford.
Affecting government policy on Tuesday to Manchester United’s main hope of reclaiming a place in the Champions League on Friday, like a socially-conscious Craig David, Rashford would have been relieved to wake up on Friday knowing, for now, he could just stick to football. His boyhood club sit fifth, a rumoured Champions League spot and there is a desperation for the confirmation that would come by claiming fourth.
Yet his display at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium will rank as the lesser of the two performances. He should have scored twice in the first-half, spurning chances he’s finished many times before. The 1-1 scoreline could have been so much more for those in red.
In search of more structure, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer then asked his best attacking threat to be more rigid in his positioning out wide, cleaning up crosses from the right when he wasn’t indulging in more intricate work when he was able to come inside on his own terms. But mostly, he was putting in a shift. So his week finished as it started – scrapping out on the left-wing.
It might have been considered glib to wonder if his all-action performance against the government a few days ago might have sapped him of some energy. But the concerted effort to get his message across, one which began three months ago, would drain even the most seasoned diplomat. Nevermind a 22-year old learning on the job failed by others.
Yet perhaps one of his takeaways from securing a £120 million summer-food fund for was his brushes with incompetence to do so. It was not his problem that 1.3 million school kids in England might go hungry, but he had to make it so. And once Harry Maguire was made to look as off the pace as Matt Hancock, and David de Gea exhibited more glitches than a tracing app, the responsibility fell on Rashford once more to get Manchester United out of this mess of their own making.
The disjointed nature of the first half meant his interactions were limited – but not insignificant. He did well to react sharply when Davinson Sanchez directed a cross his way, opening his body to volley first-time with his left foot that was not far from beating Hugo Lloris’s extended left leg.
He certainly should have done more when Fred’s free-kick arched into his path asking for more than the whiff of a header it was given. There were Spurs bodies in his peripheral vision which might have made him double-take before committing to the chance. But it’s safe to say we’ve learned that Rashford isn’t the type to shirk challenges.
It’s clear that few others have had a better lockdown than the Manchester United forward. But the break has been of benefit to him, too. The back injury that saw him carried off on 15 January against Wolves was close to season-ending. His impact on a Champions League push, and Europa League glory was all but done.
The time has been used wisely, showcased by being able to last the full 95 minutes and maintaining a presence on the game throughout. It was his pass into Bruno Fernandes that had won a penalty to take the lead late on before VAR ruled Eric Dier had not impeded the Portuguese midfielder.
The penalty that did pass the video test came from the right: Paul Pogba returning to skip beyond Dier who did misstep by bundling his opponent over. Rashford was away on the other side, awaiting a cross that did not come, and then a bystander as Fernandes, United’s new penalty taker, converted from the spot.
It was his game in a nutshell, on the periphery, but not reflective of his work as a whole. He won all his aerial duels, but lost the ball 16 more times than he won it back as he pushed to do more to impose himself. Luckily, his fruitless endeavour did not come back to bite him.
Before tonight Rashford had scored United’s last three goals against Spurs, and should have at least had a fourth. But still there was no shame in his output. In fact, it was a reminder a man capable of wonderful things needs some help every now and again.