Marcus Rashford braced to fill Wayne Rooney void – but tougher times await

England captain Wayne Rooney retires from international dutyWochit

Wayne Rooney was presumably hoping for a quieter life after leaving the pressure pit at Manchester United and retiring from international football. The twilight of his playing career could be spent trying to bring silverware to his boyhood team Everton and raising his children (a fourth is expected soon).

Instead the 31-year-old Liverpudlian finds himself back on the tabloid front pages for all the wrong reasons – arrested for drink driving and trapped in an extra-marital scandal. His new manager Ronald Koeman isn't too happy with him.

Meanwhile, Rooney has been seamlessly replaced on the newspaper back pages by the new great hope, Marcus Rashford. While his former club and country captain was descending into tabloid hell, the 19-year-old scored England's winner against Slovakia to push his team to the brink of qualification for next year's World Cup finals in Russia.

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The Mancunian striker has the potential to be the sort of Red Devils legend that Rooney came tantalisingly close to becoming. Rooney was a wholehearted and talented United player, but arrived from Everton and has returned there. Rashford has been at United since he was seven years old.

Rashford scored twice on his United debut against Midtjylland in the Europa League. He was just 18 and became United's youngest ever scorer in European competition, a record previously held by George Best. That is the sort of benchmark set by a potential United legend.

Three days later he made his domestic debut, against Arsenal, again scoring a double, and becoming the third youngest United player to score in the Premier League. Rooney had previously announced himself in the Premier League with a spectacular goal against the Gunners as a 16-year-old, while playing for Everton.

Four months after Rashford's arrival at club level he became the youngest Englishman to score on his international debut, in a friendly against Australia, eclipsing a record set by the great Tommy Lawton in 1938.

Although Rashford was only used sparingly by Roy Hodgson during England's disastrous 2016 European Championships campaign there was already a sense that he was the potential game changer and that he had been underused. Despite his callow youth, expectations were already growing exponentially.

Following United's signing of Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović, Rashford was often played out of position in his second season of senior football, but he still appeared in more games than any other player.

And now he has scored his first England goal in a competitive game. That still leaves him 51 goals behind Rooney, England's all-time top goalscorer. Much is expected of Rashford, the question will be how will he handle the pressure? Particularly when events go against him.

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Rashford was partially at fault for the goal England conceded against Slovakia, but his second half winner allowed the mistake to be considered a curious footnote rather than the defining event.

The media and the fans can turn against players, sometimes irrevocably. A disappointing performance at the 2010 World Cup saw the fans turn on the players. Rooney's reaction - "Nice to see your own fans boo you. That's what loyal support is" – caused longer term disenchantment than minor failings on the field. We have yet to hear enough from Rashford to know how outspoken he might become.

With so many big names – and characters – at Old Trafford, Rashford will be shielded from much of the job of performing for the media. With Jose Mourinho's United side taking shape and featuring a plethora of top class performers, Rashford should also not be expected to shoulder the burden of carrying an underperforming team, as became Rooney's role in his last few seasons.

But the pressure at international level is on a different plane to that at his club. England coach Gareth Southgate is already talking a good game about managing Rashford's development and expectations: "United prepare their players well, which is why they end up the way they do... there is a certain type they develop because they are given good values," he said. "Marcus has a great platform to build from, and he has a good influence at his clubs in terms of José Mourinho to keep him grounded. We will do the same here."

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In his debut season – under Louis Van Gaal – Rashford scored eight goals in 18 games. He followed that with just 11 in 53 games in his second season, with Mourinho now in charge, but was rarely played in his preferred central role. "The season without pressure, the season where nobody demands, that nobody knows him, he comes in and makes an impact, he feels free," the Portuguese coach said of the expectations of Rashford. "He is just a kid that is enjoying his football. The second season was always going to be a difficult one. The third season is one with more maturity, he can build on his experiences so I am sure the third season will be better than the second."

Come next summer the nation's expectations will, as always, be inexplicably high given that England have only reached the semi-finals stage of the World Cup twice. If Rashford's progress as a player continues he will become a standard bearer for the hope that 52 years of hurt can be brought to an end and with that comes both the up and downsides of fame in this fickle land.

Rashford is seemingly the heir-apparent after Rooney's international retirement.Getty Images

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