Marcus Rashford’s potentially season-ending injury picked up during his substitute appearance for Manchester United in their clash with Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves side was, at first glance, an unfortunate and ill-fated incident. The argument that the 22-year-old had played far too many minutes recently and therefore his overuse was the cause of the injury would have been valid had it been muscular-related. Instead, he had suffered a double-stress fracture in his back.
The truth, however, is even worse than the idea that muscular fatigue was the result of Rashford’s injury, one which will leave him sidelined for two-three months at a minimum. The real reasoning is down to gross negligence by both United’s medical team and Rashford’s manager.
During Liverpool’s 2-0 win over the Red Devils at Anfield on Sunday, Henry Winter, the chief football writer of the Times, was the first to reveal the extent of Rashford’s injury. “Rashford was carrying a single-stress fracture in his back and now has a double-stress fracture after the Wolves game,” Winter wrote on Twitter. Continuing, Winter added that Rashford “also has a piece of floating bone in his ankle requiring non-intrusive surgery to remove. He has been playing through immense pain to help.”
It’s hard to believe that Rashford, regardless of any insistence from the player himself, was passed fit to play in any game whilst sustaining such an injury, let alone an FA Cup third-round fixture against Wolves at Old Trafford. When adding this to the fact Ole Gunnar Solskjær was already too reliant on United’s number ten, the thought of Solskjær then continuing his overuse of Rashford knowing the extent of the injuries he was carrying is not only mismanagement, it’s pure incompetence.
In a Telegraph report, Northern football correspondent James Ducker revealed that Rashford’s condition was so poor that prior to the Wolves clash, he physically struggled to sit down during an interview with Ryan Giggs and for large parts, he remained standing up. Despite the injury quite clearly causing Rashford problems in his everyday life, Solskjær, presumably with the backing of United’s medical team, still opted to introduce the forward in the 64th minute against Wolves. Just 16 minutes later, Rashford was unable to continue and was forced off.
Such handling of Rashford’s situation inevitably caused a backlash, with former Premier League midfielder Jamie O’Hara, who suffered the same injury in his career, sharing his shock on talkSPORT: “I can’t believe that the medical team at Manchester United have allowed him [Rashford] to carry on playing,” O’Hara said. They must have known he had a stress fracture. They must have been worried about his back if he’s gone for an x-ray. There needs to be a time when there is protection for a player who is at Manchester United, a massive player, a young kid, where the medical team go, ‘You need to step out because this is only going to get worse’.”
“Now, United have lost him at the most crucial period of the season and potentially England have lost him. I’m gobsmacked that they’ve allowed him to continue playing at that age.”
The criticism continued, with Ian Wright placing the blame at the door of the United manager. “Solskjær said he knew Rashford was struggling and still played him against Wolves, and now he’s out for three months,” Wright said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“We’re talking about an explosive player. Solskjær’s under intense pressure to get United back where they were and he’s thought about himself before he thought about the player. Solskjær has put himself above Marcus Rashford’s health. Now, one of their most promising and most important players is out.”
In the Premier League this season, Rashford has scored 14 goals and provided 4 assists in 22 appearances, showing his importance to not only United but Solskjær too. However, there comes a time when the health and career of a player, especially one aged just 22, has to be placed as a priority, despite the fact results may suffer because of it. There is little reason as to why Solskjær or the club’s medical staff wouldn’t have known about Rashford’s problems, and their choice to continue to use him suggests those involved in that decision should not be qualified to do so.
It’s not the first time incompetence has been displayed by those in charge at United when managing injuries this season with Paul Pogba’s injury troubles seeing similar mismanagement. The Frenchman was ruled out of action after injuring his ankle in early September before he later started and played 90 minutes against Rochdale in the League Cup and then faced Arsenal shortly after. Like Rashford, Pogba then aggravated the injury and was ruled out of action once more. After his second comeback of the season, the midfielder suffered yet another setback. The 26-year-old then went on to use his own preferred medical specialists, something he was heavily criticised for, who recommended surgery which has ruled him out until February at the earliest. Now, it’s easy to see why Pogba opted for the opinion of those outside the United set-up.
For Solskjær to feel the need to use players in a situation such as Rashford either highlights his huge inexperience or his desperation given the lack of depth in quality at his disposal. The Norwegian can talk up the squad and how content he is with the players and those coming through the youth system all he likes, but his actions suggest otherwise. And it’s one of many occasions where his words have not supported reality. The United boss has continually told reporters the expected timeline of a return from players out with injury and almost every time, he has been way off the mark. Not only is it misleading, but it’s also untrustworthy to supporters who wish to know what’s happening at the club.
A common trend in Solskjær’s behaviour is becoming more and more noticeable after each passing week. It’s as though each time the 46-year-old speaks, the end goal from each interaction is to buy himself a bit more time, even if it’s just a little, before his next opportunity to paint an image only he can see that eases the pressure in his own mind. After Manchester City came to Old Trafford and put on what can only be described as a ‘men against boys’ performance, easing to a 3-1 win over United, Solskjær bizarrely went on to suggest the fact Pep Guardiola had put out a strong team showed the progress this United side had made, despite having just watched the total void of competition between the two sides that the rest of us had.
In a similar occurrence, one of the first conclusions Solskjær drew from the 2-0 loss at Anfield on Sunday was that the performance was superior to the one José Mourinho’s United had displayed in his final game in charge of the club. Should Solskjær honestly believe that after 13 months in charge, losing 2-0 to Liverpool rather than 3-1 is the progress fans were wanting to see, then he is not fit to manage this football club.
The false reality Solskjær seems to be living in is perhaps one of the reasons he continues to share his happiness with a squad offering such little depth and real quality, yet runs his most important players into the ground out of fear of not being able to win without them. If, after allowing Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez to leave the club in the summer, Solskjær had demanded replacements, he wouldn’t have been put in a situation where he is relying on an unfit Rashford to bring results on his own. And after non-existent planning from everyone at United, the injury crisis that many fans had predicted has arrived and what do you know, there are no suitable replacements available to the manager. Better yet, the club have returned for a player they deemed not good enough in the summer in Bruno Fernandes because the Portuguese midfielder’s agent was seeking out potential buyers. And even so, Ed Woodward and co. are struggling to complete any deal as of now.
As fans, those in charge at the club want us to support the long-term plan and culture rebuild that is supposedly going on, yet those overseeing it aren’t able to give an accurate description of it, even from the inside. Woodward had wanted supporters to know the search for a Director of Football was underway following Mourinho’s departure because he had briefed it, yet after more than a year, not one serious candidate has been linked with the role. Solskjær has repeatedly said, whilst ignoring the obvious need for reinforcements, that United will only move for the right player yet the club are now seeking loan options because Anthony Martial and an 18-year-old Mason Greenwood are the only two options for the number nine role, and Martial’s injury record has shown he may not be able to be depended on for three months straight.
For all Solskjær’s shortcomings, the bigger issue at United is without a shadow of doubt Woodward. His relationship with the Glazer family has allowed him to sit comfortably in his role despite six years of consistent failure, poor managerial appointments and being the architect behind placing importance on revenue building over squad building. Though it has been a long time coming, Gary Neville called out Woodward after the loss to Liverpool, saying: “I saw a statistic two weeks ago that United have the second-highest wage bill in the world. And that’s the squad they’ve got. It’s unforgivable. It really is. I can’t believe the investment that’s been put into the squad in the last five, six, seven years and you end up with that out on the pitch.”
“I can’t change the ownership, no one can. I’m struggling to understand why the ownership have persisted in trusting that management team to oversee the building of a Premier League title-winning team since Sir Alex Ferguson left,” Neville said.
“If you don’t lose your job for essentially overseeing that investment, that wage bill, and putting that team out on the pitch then I have to say something is really wrong. In terms of what the club needed to do for a number of years now, it’s to put the best in class football operators into that club and they’re not doing it. They’re not doing it and it’s a mess.”
Woodward was the highest-paid director in the Premier League last year, earning £3.16million to oversee a trophyless campaign that saw him sack Mourinho, who he appointed to bring instant success yet disagreed with the manager’s short-term targets, and later employ Solskjær with the promise of a Director of Football, yet the position remains unfulfilled.
The running of the club has become so poor that according to the Scottish Sun, Celtic and Scotland physio Tim Williamson refused to continue talks with United after three months because the club failed to contact him on an agreed date to organise his relocation from Scotland to England. The person leading the negotiations? Woodward.
The mismanagement at Old Trafford knows no end. From the management team to the medical team to the owners and to Woodward, all involved with the club continue to act in an inept manner which is ensuring the fall from grace that began almost seven years ago remains ongoing. An already tough to watch season just became even tougher, and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing it could all end tomorrow.
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