A new era is set to begin at Manchester United, this time under the stewardship of Erik Ten Hag. The Dutchman comes in with a burgeoning pedigree but United is a different beast altogether. Apart from the familiar failings at the back and in midfield, the 52-year-old will also be tasked with rekindling the flailing fortunes of individual members of the playing squad – most notably Marcus Rashford.
The 24-year-old had his worst season as a Red Devil last term, netting only five times in 32 appearances. A lack of goals was not the most worrying aspect however. It was his desire and work-rate that was frequently questioned by fans and pundits alike.
The England international frequently cut a lonely figure, refusing to track back, failing to run at defenders and making numerous errors. And as soon as mistakes crept in, his head would automatically go down and his shoulders would droop. The nadir of his season came at home to Chelsea, with Reece James having the freedom of the entire left wing to run at the United defence with Cristiano Ronaldo having to track back from his position as striker.
Steve McClaren, who will serve as Ten Hag’s assistant at Old Trafford, has previous experience of coaching at United. He knows what it takes to win, having worked under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. He is also a big admirer of Rashford’s talents but even he was critical of what he saw from the attacker last season.
“I hate that attitude in a player. Body language is so, so important, and that was the criticism of United players in the last few weeks, but Rashford has probably had this problem throughout his career in terms of questioning his attitude,” the former Middlesbrough boss told talkSPORT after the Reds narrowly scrapped past Aston Villa in the third round of the FA Cup.
“He gets deterred too easily and doesn’t fight through bad moments. He doesn’t stay in the game. If he’s not having a good game, he’s not having a good game. If he’s not having a good first half, he’ll never have a good second half. I just look at him and think that boy needs help, off the field and through the manager.”
McClaren, a big advocate of sports psychology, added that Rashford needed to accept that his attitude has become a hindrance in order to seek help off the pitch.
“Rashford has got the talent and the ability. There’s that one cornerstone which we call mentality, attitude, which he hasn’t grasped yet. There are certain tools with which you can come out of bad times, so you play one bad pass and don’t make it two or three.
“You get back to playing simple again. He’s brought in a sports psychologist but a player needs to admit first that he’s in the wrong, has a bad attitude and needs help.”
🗣️ Steve McClaren on Marcus Rashford's form:
"I just look at him and think 'That boys needs help, off the field and through the manager.' Somebody needs to give him the tools to come out of the bad times. It's a cloud above his head that he can't get out of." 🙏 #MUFC pic.twitter.com/g5qH5iLgO0
— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) January 13, 2022
Fans will hope that Ten Hag and his backroom staff comprising McClaren and Mitchell van der Gaag can get the best out of the Mancunian. Rashford is expected to arrive for pre-season on June 27 due to not being part of the national team set-up. He can benefit immensely from some one-to-one coaching and clear-the-air talks from the new manager.
Despite a poor season, the academy graduate has been the subject of speculation with Tottenham, Barcelona and even Arsenal interested in the skilled winger, whose contract with the Red Devils runs until 2023.
There is a supremely talented player in him who needs to be nurtured by the coaching staff. That was on full display during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s tenure. Ralf Rangnick was not his biggest fan, and he preferred to use fellow academy product Anthony Elanga in his stead. Ten Hag needs to help unleash the attacker’s full potential but if mentality problems persist, it will not be long before he becomes the latest casualty of the new regime.