Brendan Crossan: Marcus Rashford has only himself to blame for a stalled career

Man United striker just one of many problem children at Old Trafford

Marcus Rashford did not make the squad
Marcus Rashford did not make the England squad for Euro 2024 (John Walton/PA)

“Marcus Rashford is one that I definitely would have included. I know he’s had a poor season – but, you know there’s a player in there.” - Former England striker Michael Owen

HATS off to Atalanta. Dublin’s Aviva Stadium won’t forget their performance in a hurry.

Facing the newly crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen, Xabi Alonso’s side quickly assumed the nickname ‘Never-Lusen’ having gone through the entire season unbeaten – until, of course, they ran into a concrete block of an opponent called Atalanta on Wednesday night and duly lost the Europa League final 3-0.

It’s one of the most comprehensive wins you’ll see in a cup final. Moulded supremely well by the canny Gian Piero Gasperin, the Bergamo outfit delivered a masterclass in sheer bloody-mindedness and hard graft.

The way in which they made the Germans surrender was beautiful.

Pep Guardiola was right when he said playing Atalanta is like visiting the dentist.

They’re a team that have a ferocious appetite for doing the ugly things of the game really well. They never let their opponents rest.

Beaten 1-0 in the Italian Cup final by Juventus a week earlier, they weren’t prepared to lose a second cup final in the space of seven days and celebrated their first major trophy in 61 years.

Already dubbed the ‘Lookman final’ – an ode to Ademola Lookman’s brilliant hat-trick on the night perhaps doesn’t do justice to one of the best team performances in a European final for many years.

Jack Baldwin (right) celebrates scoring County’s second
Jack Baldwin (right) celebrates scoring County’s second (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman completes his hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen
Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman completes his hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen (Niall Carson/PA)

Atalanta’s individual and collective work-rate instructed everybody in the stadium and watching around the world that hard work pays. No team has played better without the ball.

The only way Leverkusen could get out of their own half of the field was lumping the ball forward, and when they tried to pass around Atalanta’s ceaseless press, they coughed up possession every time.

Leverkusen simply weren’t prepared for the intensity with which Atalanta came at them.

The Italians’ performance won’t be remembered for pretty patterns of play; they’re the type of team that reap results by forcing mistakes out of the opposition high up the field - and Lookman provided the finishing touches.

For teams like Atalanta, culture is everything. Clearly, everyone wholeheartedly buys into the collective.

It’s a bit like the All-Blacks mantra - No D***heads Policy [NDP] - as their starting point before anything takes place on or off the field.

It’s not the kind of policy, you’d imagine, that has gained much traction at Manchester United these days.

Eric Ten Hag earned the respect of supporters when he jettisoned Jadon Sancho for his poor attitude in training.

Sancho’s performances in games weren’t much better for Manchester United - and yet since his departure he’s been running around for Borussia Dortmund like an apprentice fighting for his first pro contract.

While well within his rights to get rid of the player, Ten Hag’s problem was that he didn’t have enough credit in the bank as a tactician and had probably too many fires to put out in the Manchester United dressing room – some of whom, it must be said, he brought to Old Trafford.

Marcus Rashford is just one of many problem children at Old Trafford. At 26, United and England fans are still waiting for him to fulfil his potential.

But how much potential actually resides in the striker? He’s never been anything other an erratic finisher. There are strikers you fancy in one-on-one situations.

Rashford isn’t one of them. But it’s not just his measly goals return that irks United and England fans; it’s more his lack of work-rate in games - to the point where his behaviour has not been far off downing-tools territory.

The out-of-favour England striker was rightly criticised for his lethargic display as a substitute in United’s 4-3 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the beginning of April.

The footage of him jogging towards Cole Palmer on the halfway line, with no urgency or desire to stop his opponent gaining ground can never be airbrushed from the Manchester United striker’s career.

In those meandering, passive strides against Chelsea, Rashford conjured all that football fans can’t abide in young, very wealthy footballers: a lack of effort.

It was unashamed too.

In that moment, Ten Hag would have been applauded had he substituted the substitute and shown him the door.

This season has been Rashford’s worst of his career. And you must question the wisdom of Michael Owen’s assertion that he should have been picked in the England squad bound for the Euros in Germany next month.

On what grounds? That, there’s a “player in there”? Where? This notion that there’s a ruthless finisher in Rashford doesn’t stand up to the merest hint of scrutiny.

Still, Rashford most certainly would have been on the plane to Germany if he displayed a better work ethic.

You wonder, too, did he watch the Europa League final on Wednesday night and study the insatiable work-rate of Atalanta’s strikers.

Each time a Leverkusen defender had the ball, they were closed down immediately. It was a brutal execution of an opponent through orchestrated work-rate.

It’s a genuine pity Rashford hasn’t made more of his career.

A young man with clearly a strong social conscience and an inspiration to the dispossessed and disenfranchised class in English society, it’s nevertheless hard to escape the fact that he hasn’t worked hard enough to merit a place in the England squad and why his career has stalled so spectacularly.

He’s only himself to blame.