Marcus Rashford at a crossroads in career ahead of Manchester derby

Marcus Rashford at a crossroads in career ahead of Manchester derby

The beginning of the Sir Jim Ratcliffe era has prompted a period of introspection as Manchester United ponder which direction to go in next — and this feels a similarly apt time for Marcus Rashford to contemplate his own future.

Rashford's career, it must be said, is at a crossroads.

A member of Paris Saint-Germain's shortlist of potential candidates to replace Kylian Mbappe if he joins Real Madrid, Rashford must decide whether to continue pledging his loyalty to his boyhood club or instead roll the dice and embrace a new challenge.

Rashford is United's most saleable asset but extended his contract until 2028 last summer, after a season in which he had scored 30 goals and registered 11 assists in 56 club appearances, including a career-high 17 Premier League goals.

Seven months on, the 26-year-old is no longer riding the crest of that wave. In truth, he has struggled to stay afloat at United this season.

His relationship with manager Erik ten Hag is understood to be strained since he called in sick for training last month after partying into the early hours on a tequila-fuelled night out in Belfast.

That marked a new nadir in an already below-par season for Rashford, in which he has scored only five goals from 32 games.

After Wednesday night's 1-0 FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest, Alan Shearer said of Rashford while co-commentating for BBC One: "I don't like his body language at times.

"You, as an individual, have to take responsibility now and again for your actions on the pitch. He is getting frustrated."

With striker Rasmus Hojlund out injured, Rashford must step up — but not only for United's benefit.

Rashford has struggled at Man United this season (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)
Rashford has struggled at Man United this season (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

Euro 2024 is peering into view on the horizon and there is a very real chance he will miss out on a call-up unless his form improves, given Gareth Southgate can only name 23 players in this summer's squad.

Jack Grealish's disappointing season and Raheem Sterling's absence from the last five England squads give Rashford hope of selection, but Anthony Gordon, Cole Palmer and Jarrod Bowen are all loudly making their case.

But in a frank interview with The Players' Tribune earlier this week, Rashford admitted: "I can take any criticism. But if you start questioning my commitment to this club and my love for football, then I'd simply ask you to have a bit more humanity.

"I promise you, the world has not seen the best of this United squad. We will be back where we belong, in the Champions League. We just have to keep working, and that starts with me."

Rashford has only scored five goals in 19 Manchester derbies, but the most recent was the winner when United beat Manchester City 2-1 last January.

United face City at the Etihad on Sunday. While Rashford will be hoping to kickstart an upturn in form, City cannot afford to drop points.

Pep Guardiola's relentless side head into the derby on the back of 14 wins and a draw from their last 15 games in all competitions, but they are one point below Premier League leaders Liverpool and only one above third-place Arsenal.

The visit of United to the Etihad begins a pivotal period in their title charge, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Aston Villa their three subsequent league fixtures.

Stumble now, and both Liverpool and Arsenal are well placed and well stocked to capitalise.