Eye On EPL

Let youth gain from playing alongside seniors

People are calling Marcus Rashford the next Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo, following his fearless performances in the Europa League and English Premier League last week.

Perhaps it is still too early to draw those comparisons. Nonetheless, he showed he has the potential to light up the Theatre of Dreams.

In a head-spinning week at Manchester United, which saw the club score 11 goals in three matches, it was Rashford's star that shone the brightest when he netted four goals in two games.

While it could be true that United boss Louis van Gaal was forced to include the 18-year-old in the starting XI out of desperation as 14 senior players were unavailable for selection, Rashford deserves the credit for seizing the opportunity given to him.

While last week's outstanding performances have made him famous, Rashford would have served notice of his talent when he plied his trade with the youth team.

The coaches at the academy would have flagged the attributes of their Under-18 top scorer last year to van Gaal.


Now that Rashford (above) and Co. have shown that they can play and win matches at senior level, they need to be given more room to build on that potential. So I hope that Rashford can stay on and train with the first team, which will help him to grow as a player and make him a consistent force. PHOTO: REUTERS

But we know what might happen to promising young players when they are called the next big thing.

In the past, we have seen such players who announced their arrivals in stunning fashion, only to fizzle out just as quickly.

Federico Macheda impressed when he was just 18. But in subsequent years, the Italian was loaned out six times and eventually released from the club in 2014. There was also talk of Adnan Januzaj being the next Ryan Giggs but the current United No. 11 has been disappointing.

Coaches take a big risk when they field young and inexperienced players. Even senior players might not support the decision because they do not trust their younger team-mates much.

If van Gaal had lost over the weekend, he would probably have been grilled about his selection.

Fortunately, the possibility of a backlash is not holding coaches back from fielding youths.

Rashford, Guillermo Varela, 22, and Jesse Lingard, 23, outran the Gunners on Sunday. The average age of United's starting XI was 24.8, while Arsenal's was 26.5.

Tottenham's was 23.5 and they engineered a gutsy comeback victory over Swansea on the same day. Dele Alli, 19, has made 25 appearances for Spurs in the Premier League, scoring seven goals and making five assists.

As a former player, I've seen how young players benefit when they train and play with the seniors, even though the age gap is big.

When national midfielder Hariss Harun first came in to the senior team to train under former coach Raddy Avramovic, he was like a baby to the senior Lions.

We had heard about Hariss and knew that he was a good player. But it was through allowing him to learn from the senior players that he grew. And at 16, he became the youngest player to make his debut for the national football team.

Now that Rashford and Co. have shown that they can play and win matches at senior level, they need to be given more room to build on that potential.

So I hope that Rashford can stay on and train with the first team, which will help him to grow as a player and make him a consistent force.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Let youth gain from playing alongside seniors'. Print Edition | Subscribe