Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith has praised Jose Mourinho for his handling of Marcus Rashford at Manchester United this season.
The youngster has made 33 appearances – of which 17 were starts – this season so far, featuring primarily on the wing in order to accommodate Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He claimed his seventh goal of the season during Man United’s 2-1 FA Cup fifth round win over Blackburn Rovers on Sunday, latching on to a sumptuous Henrikh Mkhitaryan pass before rounding Jason Steele and sliding the ball into an empty net.
And Smith, speaking on Sky Sports during the aftermath, was quick to credit the Portuguese for managing the youngster so well this season.
“After he exploded onto the scene he was never going to continue like that,” he said. “You have to take a dip as a youngster.
“And I think Jose Mourinho’s just been very careful with him. He’s had opportunities but he’s not played as well as he would have wanted to.
“There’s fierce competition for places up top. Wayne Rooney can’t even get in so it’s no disgrace for a lad of Rashford’s age.
“But he’s clearly a lad with great talent and you want to – I think they have done – tie him down for a few years to come.
“That goal [against Blackburn] will do him a lot of good.”
It is clear that Mourinho envisaged this season as something of a developmental period for Rashford. The Portuguese decided to acquire Zlatan’s services mainly for his goalscoring prowess, of course, but also as a means of getting the best out of young talents, and no such mantra applies to anybody more than the Englishman.
This season has seen Rashford produce a series of powerful performances on the wing, claiming seven goals in the process, and he could round off this season with a very healthy total indeed. But the crux of his season has been somewhat defined by the example set by Zlatan at Carrington, and Mourinho will hope that, once the the Swede hangs up his boots, Rashford will take the No.9 role in his stride.