A sombre tone accompanied the full-time whistle at Molineux on Saturday night.
Manchester United had just crashed out of the FA Cup and the cold wind chill in the air had done little to liven the mood of supporters still bewildered by such a late kick-off time.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s third defeat as United caretaker manager was the hardest to take. This was the first time his tactical risk didn’t pay off, and the first time the side was emphatically subdued and left scratching their heads.
It was a far cry from the form we have come to expect at United on a night where makeshift captain Paul Pogba and his teammates failed to live up to their pre-match billing.
Although the stagnant display opened the squad up to criticism it also allowed Marcus Rashford to highlight just why he is so crucial to the current set-up.
His consolation strike at the end was the only real highlight, his wayward effort in the first-half embodied a frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite loud jeers accompanying his awful effort, there was solace in the frustrations of a player who knows his side are capable of so much more.
Although it wasn’t a night to live long in the memory of away fans, it was another night in which Rashford took the game by the scruff of its neck and demonstrated a level of leadership far beyond his years.
As frustrations grew he was still the player screaming for the ball, taking every set-piece and hoping to find a way of clawing his side back into the game.
Speaking of his own influences growing up, Rashford cited current teammates Jesse Lingard and Pogba as powerful role models in his life. “When I saw them start playing and being involved, it kind of made me refocus and step on again,” he told GQ earlier in the week. “That’s what it is, coming into the first team, now, for me – that’s what I want to be for the younger ones. For them to see how possible it is.” It’s safe to say he’s fulfilling that wish.
Not only is Rashford a player for the present but he is also the perfect role model to bridge the gap between old and new. The 21-year-old is a player who every youngster dreams of being on the playground and a hardworking one who fills even the most cynical supporters with pride.
Although much of his generation is criticised for their exuberant lifestyle and heavy social media output, Rashford breaks the mould with his mature outlook and a tendency to do his talking on the pitch. It is immense credit to the 21-year-old that despite earning the right to gloat about his remarkable rise, he is still so hungry to do achieve so much more.
Perhaps the biggest credit for Rashford is the fact his whirlwind adventure has come under the guidance of three different managers, all three who have shown faith in the youngster and proven that his stardom if far more than temporary hype.
This faith was repaid nearly a fortnight ago when the England international unleashed a powerful penalty past Gianluigi Buffon and broke Paris Saint-Germain hearts, and nearly the net. In that brief moment it was hard to gauge just what the local lad from Wythenshawe had achieved. Last summer he netted a penalty for England in their World Cup shootout triumph vs Colombia, but the courage to do so in Paris was a whole new level of pressure.
Rashford’s immense talent deserves a lot more reward than his current trophy cabinet holds, and with Saturday’s defeat it seems a second successive trophyless season is on the cards.
But with a prodigy like Rashford in their possession, whoever takes over at the end of the season will have one of the best players in a generation on their hands and the ability to achieve greatness.