While some sections of the media chose to focus on the questionable financials of the deal, Manchester United fans were delighted at their club’s capture of Alexis Sánchez from Arsenal in January, swapping the under-performing Henrikh Mkhitaryan for the Chilean attacker.
A world-class talent with match-winning ability, Sánchez’s arrival, with United having pipped rivals Manchester City to the 29-year-old’s signature, is a huge coup for José Mourinho.
But some fear the signing of Sánchez will have a negative impact on Old Trafford’s developing stars; in particular, 20-year-old England international Marcus Rashford.
Former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp expressed such a sentiment to Sky Sports recently, claiming Sánchez’s signing might even necessitate Rashford having to leave the club to find regular playing time.
“I just feel for people like Marcus Rashford,” Redknapp said. “They go down the pecking order and he’s probably thinking where do I fit in now, said Redknapp.
“Part of the Premier League is having these players but I just feel sorry when someone like Marcus Rashford is going to be thinking ‘this is another pathway blocked for me.’
“He might have to go in the end. It doesn’t help your confidence. Every time you are training you think ‘I’m not going to play on Saturday’ . . . He probably needs to go and play football somewhere.”
It’s easy to see why Rashford has been identified as the man to be most impacted by Sánchez’s United move: despite doubts over his future in the summer, Anthony Martial has been the Red Devils’ most impressive attacker this term, while Jesse Lingard has improved exponentially recently.
Meanwhile, Rashford’s form has been indifferent at best. The youngster has too often been guilty of poor decision-making this season and has struggled to replicate the dynamic and clinical touch he demonstrated upon breaking into the first team in 2015/16.
But concerns over Rashford’s long-term future at Old Trafford are misplaced. The United No.19 has featured in all but one of his side’s 37 competitive games so far this term.
And, while Martial has usurped him as the first-choice option for the left side of Mourinho’s attack of late, the Englishman remains a go-to pick as a game-changing substitute and a high-ranking rotation option.
At 20, playing for one of the Premier League’s top teams, that’s not a bad position for Rashford to be in; his fairytale start to life in senior football set a high bar, but there’s no need to rush his development.
What’s more, owing to United’s proud history of creating superstars from within their academy, Rashford’s homegrown status will, to a degree, afford him more patience than most; Jesse Lingard, for example, who is only now blossoming at 25, might not have lasted as long elsewhere.
Considering Rashford’s campaign thus far has been marked out by frustration, he has managed to sustain in impressive level of productivity, retuning ten goals and eight assists. His versatility, too, will see him given more than enough game time to keep his development on track, able to play on either flank or centrally as a striker, the position most consider to be where his future lies.
Sánchez can also fulfil the same roles, and will automatically be ahead of Rashford in the pecking order for each. But the former Barcelona and Udinese star is 29 – he is very much a signing for the here and now.
A player of his style will often begin to regress by the age of 32, by which point Rashford will still only be 23, at age at which players are still considered young, with the odd mistake excused in the name of the learning process.
Rashford started United’s recent FA Cup fourth round victory away to Yeovil Town which is likely evidence of his current standing as a back-up option, rather than a guaranteed starter – David de Gea, Paul Pogba and Martial were all left at home for the trip to Somerset.
But United’s 4-0 victory over the League Two side showed that Rashford and Sánchez, if given the opportunity, can coexist; the Chilean, making his debut for his new club, was the man who fed the young striker to open the scoring in the first half.
Having joined as part of a swap deal which saw Mkhitaryan move to the Emirates, Sánchez has not added to United’s numbers in attack, so Rashford has not fallen down the pecking order this month.
Of course, the new No.7 will hold a near-undroppable position initially, which Mkhitaryan did not benefit from, and will mean Rashford will be among several United players battling for the remaining three roles in attack in Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1, but he will not be starved of opportunities – the fact he has appeared in every game so far this term speaks volumes about how Mourinho views the youngster.
The jury is still out among many observers as to just how high Rashford’s ceiling is. But whatever the 20-year-old’s true potential, the arrival of Sánchez will not bring about his Old Trafford exit.