Steven Gerrard knows all too well the issues plaguing Marcus Rashford at Man Utd

Rashford is enduring the most challenging time of his Manchester United career, and Gerrard dealt with a similar injury crossroads before coming out the other side

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  • 06:00, 14 Jan 2022
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Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has come in for criticism amid personal and team struggles at Old Trafford, and the England international could be taken out of the firing line as Ralf Rangnick's side take on Aston Villa over the weekend.

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However, even if the 24-year-old begins on the sidelines, opposition manager Steven Gerrard may look at his compatriot and remember the challenges he faced himself at a similar age.

Rashford has faced a challenging few months since returning from shoulder surgery, having delayed his operation to feature for England at Euro 2020, and former Man Utd number two Steve McClaren has questioned the forward's body language both this season and at other points in his career.

Recovery from the litany of injury issues faced by the forward isn't easy, though, and sometimes a player will need to come through some tough times and show patience before returning to their best level.

One man who faced such challenges was Gerrard, who achieved plenty in his playing career but was only able to do so after a tough decision amid injury worries in his early twenties.

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Rashford hasn't scored for Man Utd since Ralf Rangnick took over as manager
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Image:
AFP via Getty Images)

Gerrard was poised to feature for England at the 2002 World Cup, having scored a memorable goal in the 5-1 qualifying win away to Germany, only for groin problems to plague him for the final three months of the season.

Rashford had similar issues last term, only to play through the pain and go in for surgery after the tournament, but Gerrard did the opposite – despite it costing him a chance to play in Japan and South Korea.

"We all wanted him to go to Korea and Japan because it would have been good for his development – but sadly it will not happen now," Liverpool's then-manager Gerard Houllier said at the time.

"I wanted him to experience this tournament, and develop himself at the very highest level – but he is young and there will be other days for Stevie."

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Gerrard did indeed come back stronger, eventually getting the first of three World Cup opportunities in 2006 after continuing to thrive in a Liverpool shirt.

However, it is always difficult for a player to turn down the opportunity to travel to a major tournament, especially when – as has been the case with Rashford – previous opportunities haven't quite gone to plan.

The United forward was mostly used from the bench at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, and may have felt as though greater involvement in the most recent tournament would allow him to show his true quality.

Ultimately, though, he endured the worst of both worlds, failing to hold down a starting place for Gareth Southgate's national side and enduring a difficult time in the final against Italy.

Gerrard struggled with injuries during the 2001-02 season
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Image:
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Doctor Philippe Boixel was credited with saving Gerrard's career, and the Frenchman would later point to injuries from earlier in the player's life continuing to affect his fitness.

"The position of his body is not as it should be. It goes back some years," Boixel said.

"That, in itself, brings fatigue on more quickly and, when the muscles are tired, they are more prone to damage.

"It's only by constant manipulation and monitoring of the spine that Steven can improve."

Like Gerrard, Rashford missed games early in his career but returned when he could, if only out of a desire to contribute for his team.

Ankle, groin, hip and shoulder injuries have affected the England international throughout his young career, and the speed of his development means he has never really been able to enjoy a proper rest.

Gerrard got more World Cup chances after missing out in 2002
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Image:
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While Houllier was prepared to manage Gerrard's minutes to ensure he got the treatment he needed, it has broadly been the case that when Rashford is fit, he plays some part.

After the most recent lengthy absence, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed the forward three appearances in eight days upon his return, including starts against Atalanta and Liverpool.

There was no question of sharpness to begin with, as Rashford scored three in four upon returning to the fold, but a downturn over the last three months is prompting questions over whether his body was ready for such overuse right from the get-go.

The issue now is that questions are being asked over Rashford's attitude to the point that interim manager Ralf Rangnick has felt the need to play down concerns over his work ethic.

If the manager decides to leave out the player to help him recover some fitness and sharpness, it feels inevitable that extra scrutiny will follow regardless of the reasons.

Still, it may be time for United to realise they need to trust the process, sacrificing a few months of an under-par Rashford to get a better version of him for a number of years.

If anyone knows the value of that approach, it's the man in the opposing dugout this weekend.

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