When a club of the grandeur of Juventus are compiling a “dossier” on your character habits and personality, it means you’re doing something right as a professional footballer.
And that’s the situation Marcus Rashford finds himself in, in what has been a joyful autumn for the 21-year-old having worked his way into the first-team picture at Manchester United, following an impromptu “statathon” delivered by his manager José Mourinho; a man who hates such forensic investigations into numbers, so Rashford should feel privileged.
Then there are his bright performances for England as Gareth Southgate’s switch from the rather clunky 3-5-2 into a more fluid 4-3-3 has allowed Rashford to showcase his pace, movement and drive down the left flank in support of Harry Kane.
All that’s added up to, according to a report in the Times, is enhanced interest from Juve, whose plans for world domination extend well beyond just having a post-prime Cristiano Ronaldo for a couple of seasons.
Big things are being planned in Turin, beyond just plastering the face of the Portuguese all over billboards worldwide, and Rashford could be a part of it with the Manchester born-and-bred forward being considered as a transfer option for 2019.
Although he is a “star” for his hometown club having made 136 first-team appearances since first emerging under Louis van Gaal, Rashford’s development at Old Trafford has been a curious one. He’s never been far from the debate, over his best position, if he’s actually improving and, of course, if he’s best served working under Mourinho.
The Portuguese, a little unfairly but also with some degree of merit, has never been a manager associated with the nurturing of young talent. Picking through the bones of that particular argument is a conversation for another day but what is unequivocally true is that doubts remain over whether it’s a positive relationship for Rashford.
Which makes Juventus’ interest all the more interesting because before breaking down the financials of any potential transfer – and his contract expiry in 2020 adds an additional layer of intrigue – assuming the Bianconeri can afford him, and United would sell, would it be a good career move?
Juve, despite United’s win in Turin earlier this month, are a tier above the Premier League side at present, having dominated Serie A this decade and developed into perennial Champions League semi-finalists. For all the Red Devils’ history, they are simply not at that level.
So the quality of teammate Rashford will be playing alongside should be at a higher level while experiencing a different league, culture and all the various pressures that entails, can only be of benefit to his overall character. He may not want that, which is completely fair enough, but it would make for an enriching experience, in failure or success.
How much he would play is the big question, though. Leaving a situation where he is sort of a first XI regular, with a sizeable asterisk as to exactly how he’ll be used, to move to a whole new club, set of players and formation, would be a challenge. Especially with the presence of Ronaldo in his area, so to speak.
Then again, it should also be considered how long this little spell in the United team he’s been enjoying is going to last. Is it through his own persistence and performances, or down to the embarrassing failings of Alexis Sánchez and, to a lesser extent, Romelu Lukaku?
Those two players will come back into the first-team picture soon enough, their wages and transfer fee dictate they have to, and who is the easiest fall guy in that scenario?
There is also the very real possibility that regardless of who is managing the club next summer, Mourinho or someone else, significant investment will once again be made in trying to close the gap with Manchester City and even now Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and (gulp) Arsenal. Rashford could well find himself squeezed out.
It’s all hypothetical, and the uncertainty over the future his manager and the overall direction of United with a potential for takeover only further muddies the situation, but in deciphering just what is best for Rashford it’s perhaps best to take into consideration his form for England.
Under Southgate, he looks a mature, confident, purposeful presence on the field. There appears to be no weight around his neck and it’s represented in his football as he performs as the athletic, free-spirted, gifted wide forward everyone wants him to become.
Traditionally when players are on international duty, it’s the opposite; the pressure of representing the country is inhibiting and it affects them negatively. In Rashford’s case, it almost gives him a sense of freedom.
Is that merely Southgate’s personal touch and the environment he has helped create, or is it something more? It’s difficult to tell, given the majority of his career has been working with two managers.
But if we take it at face value, this feelgood factor Southgate has helped foster, a sense of collective responsibility and pride in the Three Lions coupled with a feeling of vibrancy and fun, then ultimately Rashford needs that replicated at club level.
He needs a place where not only he feels loved and appreciated, but its reciprocated throughout the dressing room. England duty was once seen as a chore for United players, Old Trafford and Carrington the sanctuary. That concept has been completely flipped on its head.
If United value their No.1 youth-team product, and potentially the best homegrown talent they’ve had since Paul Scholes, they’ll need to install that at Old Trafford, otherwise, Juve’s dossier could lead to an offer neither they nor Rashford can refuse.