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21st Sep 2017

Phil Neville’s claim about Marcus Rashford will make your head hurt

What the hell are you talking about?

Robert Redmond

What the hell are you talking about, Phil?

Phil Neville had a great career with Manchester United and Everton and played over 50 times for England. He also seems like a nice guy. But his punditry can leave you scratching your head. Football is a game of opinions, but quite often Phil’s opinions seem ill-conceived.

There was the time he said there was “something fundamentally wrong” with Luke Shaw because Jose Mourinho, a confrontational manager, questioned the player. Or that Wayne Rooney had to play for Manchester United, regardless of his form, because he was Wayne Rooney, and Wayne Rooney has to play.

Just last week, he said Liverpool missed a trick in not signing Joe Hart, one of the few players in the Premier League who could make Jurgen Klopp’s defence worse.

Neville was at it again on Wednesday night. The former Manchester United defender said that Marcus Rashford doesn’t get the credit he deserves, compared to other wonder kids such as Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe, and that he is essentially ignored in England.

“Everybody praises Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe but nobody talks about Rashford in this country,” Neville said following United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup.

“Because he’s English, we just say ‘he plays on the left wing, he’s okay’. He is up there with Dembele and Mbappe, who also play on either wing. People say you have to play Rashford as a centre-forward but you can play him anywhere because he is good enough.”

Firstly, almost every football fan in England talks about Rashford. Almost every football journalist in England has written about him. Almost every football pundit has praised him. Jose Mourinho, who doesn’t give opportunities to young players on a whim, has regularly played Rashford. He has played 79 times for United, 11 times for England, and scored 26 goals in his career and he’s not even 20 yet.

Almost everyone with any connection to football, from fans to pundits to journalists, knows about him and know he’s a big talent. So, how the hell have you come to the conclusion that “nobody talks about Rashford”, Phil? What are you talking about?

This is like the time Neville blamed every Manchester City defender other than John Stones for the goals they conceded against Everton last season.

“I actually feel sorry for John Stones,” Neville said on Match of the Day 2 last January, as clips of Stones making mistake after mistake played out.

“I see Otamendi every week, I see Kolarov every week, and I see Clichy, Sagna, they’re all making mistakes, but Stones is the one who gets the criticism.”

There’s a pattern to Phil’s punditry that seems rooted in the Proper Football Man school of thought.

Neville appears to think English players are overlooked because they’re English, but English players also get singled out for criticism because they’re English. His solution to Liverpool’s defensive problems was sign an average English goalkeeper. He said United couldn’t drop Rooney when he was playing poorly because he was England and United captain.

“Rashford is in the same bracket as those two, ” Neville continued.

“£100m-£150m players – he is every bit as good as those two and can be in the future because he is improving every season.  He broke in under Louis van Gaal and set the world on fire, in his second season under Jose Mourinho everyone thought he wouldn’t play but he did in all the big games. Now he is adding goals to his game and he can be absolutely world class.”

It’s too soon to say if he can be as good as Dembele or Mbappe, and right now he probably isn’t on their level. That’s not a slight against Rashford, because it’s not an insult to say he isn’t as good as two of the best young players in the world. A decade from now, he could be better than both and have had a better career. No-one knows for sure.

What is clear is that it’s probably not a good idea to shower such praise on a player after he scored twice against Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup.

English football was quick to anoint Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney as their saviours. Both had excellent careers, but such was the hype around them as teenagers that people now ask if they underachieved. Why not just Rashford develop into the best player he can be?