Marcus Rashford must improve but remains a fantastic prospect
When Manchester United fans sing "Rashford is red," it is not cards they have in mind. However, on Sunday at Burnley and just 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute for Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford was sent off for the first time in his career.
Rashford saw red after pushing his forehead against that of former United defender -- and lifelong United fan -- Phil Bardsley, who had upset the forward after conceding a corner by kicking out, an action for which the Burnley full-back was only booked.
"Emotions got the better of me," Rashford tweeted. "I shouldn't have reacted like that. Sorry to everyone at the club and all the fans."
The upshot is that he will miss three games, against Watford and Wolves in the Premier League, plus the Carabao Cup tie vs. Derby. The suspension represents another false start this season for Rashford, who impressed the raucous away support during his brief cameo at Turf Moor and won a penalty before losing his temper.
Rashford was playing as if he had a point to prove after not getting off the bench in United's previous game against Tottenham, which followed a 45-minutes substitute appearance playing on the left at Brighton. He did start the season opener against Leicester as a centre-forward before being replaced by Romelu Lukaku after 67 minutes.
While Lukaku has three league goals in four games, Rashford has yet to score or make an assist. Mourinho, who spoke of the England international's "naivety" after Sunday's game, likes the 20-year-old, but he needs production and to trust Rashford can play as a central striker when Lukaku needs a break.
United have been too reliant on one scorer in recent seasons. In 2017-18, Lukaku got 27 goals in all competitions; Rashford and Jesse Lingard were next best with 13 apiece. The year before that, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 28, with Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan closest to him on 11 each.
Moreover, not since 2014-15 has more than one player reached double figures in terms of league goals, which is not good enough; Liverpool and Manchester City each had three last season, while the United side that won the English title in 1995-96 had four: Eric Cantona, Andrew Cole, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
Rashford should be cut some slack, though, given he is still young and developing as a player. Cristiano Ronaldo scored nine goals as a 20-year-old, five of them in the league. He too was rarely played in his favoured positions and still had much to learn.
At the same age, Harry Kane went on loan to Leicester and scored twice; Mohamed Salah managed just three more than that with Basel. By way of exception, Wayne Rooney netted 16 league goals, but he was also a better player than Rashford at 20.
United have produced developed young players in their youth system, but there has been a scarcity of strikers. It is a hard position to fill and there is impatience associated with it; if you start for the first team, you are expected immediately to perform at the top level.
Fans cannot demand the tradition of playing homegrown players is followed -- it is a plus that Rashford is a United fan from Manchester -- and then complain when said players are not world-beaters every week. Man City are far less inclined to promote youngsters and there was a fear that Mourinho would also be reluctant, but he has been good to Rashford, who has made more than 100 appearances under him.
Since bursting onto the scene with two goals on his debut in 2016, Rashford has scored the winner in a Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium and found the net vs. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and in the away leg of Europa League semifinal.
He is the real deal but forwards who go months with scoring, as he has done several times, will attract conjecture. Last season, Rashford scored only once in the league between Oct. 21 at Huddersfield and March 10 against Liverpool. He also has 25 England caps, but only three goals.
"Rashy" is popular around the club and will receive patience and encouragement as he develops. He is settled with his family -- his mum is on hand to make his favourite meal of chicken and rice -- and is close friends with Lingard; the pair are as grounded as famous young millionaires could be expected to be.
And so, while there is room for improvement, the ingredients are there. Loved by supporters, Rashford's coaches rate his pace and willingness to learn, though they think he still has to work on his finishing and getting into the right positions; he has been shown videos of Ruud van Nistelrooy to help with those aspects of his game.
Sir Alex Ferguson thinks Rashford has what it takes to become a top striker; for his progress to continue he must be nurtured, supported and make more of a mark when he gets an opportunity. He must also be patient and accept he will not always play in his favoured central role, while hoping that he plays in a team encouraged to attack.