Marcus Rashford told to 'prioritise football' instead of off-field efforts by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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Marcus Rashford of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Carrington - Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Carrington - Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told Marcus Rashford to “prioritise his football” in order to meet the challenge at Manchester United and England with fresh enthusiasm amid concerns he had become burdened by “too much responsibility”.

Rashford is expected to make his long-awaited comeback for United at Leicester on Saturday after three months out following shoulder surgery.

The England striker was awarded an MBE last year for his fight against food poverty and last week became the youngest recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester for his campaigning.

But, despite his admiration for Rashford’s charitable work, Solskjaer has urged the player to focus fully on rediscovering his best form and expressed hope that the rest has given him time to fully recharge physically and mentally after a gruelling period on and off the pitch.

Rashford’s penalty miss in England’s shoot-out defeat by Italy in the Euro 2020 final in July was the culmination of a difficult end to last season when his fitness had been compromised for months by shoulder and ankle problems.

And Solskjaer suggested the pressure on Rashford’s shoulders to deliver at United coupled with his campaigning had taken a toll and hopes the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho, plus Mason Greenwood’s progress, will ease the burden and allow him to play with a “smile” again.

“He does look fresh. He looks keen, he looks fit. He’s bulked up a little bit, some muscle,” the United manager said. “Of course, he had to bear a lot of the responsibility for us because we’ve had injuries, we’ve had different players out and, at such a young age, he’s done so much for the team and he’s done so much off the pitch as well.

“I think that the time away for him was the time maybe to focus on himself and … I don’t want to say get back to being himself but, you know, Marcus Rashford running around with that enthusiasm, running in behind, not having to take on too much responsibility is a great sight to see.

“I know that we will see the best of Marcus in the years to come. He has done remarkable things at a young age but he is now coming into the best age for a footballer and he is learning, getting more experienced, he has time to reflect on …

“You know what he has done off the pitch as well, because he has done some fantastic things and now to prioritise the … maybe prioritise his football and focus on football because he’s got a challenge on his hands here at Man United, he has a challenge on his hands to play for England, and I think Marcus is one of those who takes up those challenges and is going to.

Solskjaer added: “He is going to express himself and his talent and he knows that we want a lot from him but we are going to give him the time to get back to what he was and what he can be.

“For us now, he comes back into a different team. He’s got Jadon here, Mason’s grown, Cristiano is here. I want to see that nice grin and smile and enthusiasm that he’s shown so many times. And when he comes on the pitch, if he starts or he doesn’t, just enjoy yourself and express yourself. That’s what Man United players do and that’s what we want.”

United have taken one point from their previous two league games and the pressure on Solskjaer intensified after former manager Sir Alex Ferguson questioned his decision not to start Ronaldo in the 1-1 draw against Everton during a conversation with former mixed martial arts champion Khabib Nurmagomedov that was aired on social media.

But Solskjaer defended his decision not to start Ronaldo, insisting the Portugal forward could not play every game, and insisted there were times when Ferguson had taken risks with his team selections that backfired.

“I’m quite relaxed about it but of course it’s not really fair on the gaffer that something like this gets broadcast,” said Solskjaer, who added that he had seen no need to speak to Ronaldo after the player stormed down the tunnel at the end of the Everton match.

“You always have opinions and you speak to people, you speak to people in confidence. I disagreed with the gaffer quite a few times and I told my wife quite a few times that I disagreed with him but that never made headlines as a player.

“I’m sure Sir Alex knows that it doesn’t bother me. We all want to see Cristiano. We all want to because he’s unique, he’s different, he’s had a career and everyone wants to come and watch him. But the plain fact of it is he cannot play every single game that we play, that's just physical nature, human nature.

“But he knows how difficult this job is anyway, the gaffer. He didn’t always play the same XI. He took some risks at times to rest Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney or David Beckham, the best players that we had. Sometimes it works, sometimes it didn’t.”

Harry Maguire trained on the grass for the first time on Friday after three weeks out with a calf injury but the captain is unlikely to feature against Leicester. Solskjaer also expressed hope that Jesse Lingard - who is out of contract next summer - will sign a new contract with United.

Meanwhile, Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be available to face Atalanta at Old Trafford in the Champions League on Wednesday after United won their appeal against his two-match ban for his red card against Young Boys. The right back has already served a one-game suspension after missing the Villarreal match.

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