For those with longer memories, there was something rather alarming about the city where Marcus Rashford went off-grid last week.
According to The sunFor two nights in Belfast he embarked on an all-out hedonistic binge, a ’12-hour tequila bender’, a session that ended with him being so drunk that he had to be helped into bed by the waitress he invited back to his hotel room.
Of all the locations where a young Manchester United footballer could turn to the dark side with the world at his feet, the fact that it all took place in George Best’s home city couldn’t have been more telling.
Best, it will be recalled, found the pressures of fame that came with starring for his team so debilitating that they ultimately crushed him, diminished his talent, diminished his purpose.
Rashford is nowhere near the level of self-destruction that undermined his predecessor as one of United’s great talents. But the parallels have taken a sudden and unexpected new twist. And they feel more and more uncomfortable.
Not least because his latest escapade came at a time when Rashford’s match performances had declined most frustratingly. A player who, at his peak, is almost Best-like in his ability to light up the field, has worked hard over the past six months. Nothing seems to work for him.
His attempts to defeat an opponent invariably end in failure, his self-confidence withered, his body language offering a new lexicon of hunched shoulders and resigned expressions.
Then there is the lack of goals. Last season he scored 30 times in 56 games for club and country. He looked at the top of the world while pointing to his forehead with each goal, as if to indicate that he had figured out in his own mind how to overcome adversity.
But this season the setbacks are back: he only scored four times. Instead of going on to become the most explosive striker of his generation, instead of taking on leadership as a senior player for the club he has supported all his life, instead of ensuring he finally genius in him, he gives all the indications for a turnaround. in a permanent mug.
And worse, just as his growing army of critics insists that what he needs to do is suck up his courage and claw his way out of his malaise, he responds to the mounting pressure by becoming completely pumped up, and then claiming that he was. sick to get an education.
It’s true he’s been out of shape before; his career has long followed a turbulent curve of peaks and valleys. And he’s missed a workout before after sleeping too much. But becoming legless in full view of every camera phone in Belfast: that was something disturbingly Best-ish.
Not least by unwittingly channeling the way in which George would show total remorse after a mistake, with Rashford taking “full responsibility for his actions”. Responsibility that earned him a record fine of two weeks’ wages imposed by his club, or almost £650,000.
This is the growing concern, not just for Manchester United supporters, but for those in charge of the club: is this Bestie Mark II, as he withers under the weight of responsibility?
There is of course a big difference between Rashford and Best. Not just in the frequency and extent of Best’s escape into the bottle.
But in the fact that Rashford, unlike his great footballing ancestor, is surrounded by people who should have known better than to let him behave this way. Best ended up being alone. His only source of advice was his manager Matt Busby, whom he kept almost completely ignorant of the downward trajectory of his business.
While Best had drinking buddies, Rashford has an entourage. Consultants, PR gurus, social media operators: every step he takes is calculated and monitored. Or should be.
Which makes you wonder: How on earth did his people let him go so spectacularly wrong? Who was there to suggest that it might not be the wisest thing to do all night in a Belfast nightclub, at a time when your performance is so scrutinized? As they say in public relations, the optics of a 12-hour tequila bender are never positive.
He’s always had people. Signed by management agency Roc Nation, run by rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z, Rashford rose to national treasure status in his early 20s by campaigning for free school meals under the watchful eye of Kelly Hogarth, a director of the company. At her height, she supported the government in transition with the ruthless precision of the social media output to which she linked his name.
When Rashford split from Roc Nation in 2021, he persuaded Hogarth to stay with him. Although, intriguingly, she didn’t stay long. Last summer she was replaced without much fanfare by Caroline McAteer, the renowned football PR footballer who helped David Beckham rebuild his image after the debacle of his 1998 World Cup send-off.
But as his change in senior advisers seems to suggest, he is finding it difficult to cultivate trust. He leaves important issues to those he has known all his life. For example, his finances are in the hands of DN May Sports Management, run by his brother Dane and his stepbrother Dwain Maynard. It was Dane who accompanied him when he was called in for disciplinary talks with United manager Erik ten Hag over his excesses in Ulster.
Concerns about their ability to influence Rashford have not been allayed by their failure to pass the FA exams. As one long-term United analyst put it The Telegraph: “An entire village depends on Marcus’ wages.”
They are substantial: the contract he signed last summer will be worth more than £78 million when he completes it in 2028.
But despite the size of his business base, the player’s mental well-being doesn’t seem to have been particularly carefully curated. PR people, financial advisors, agents; they’re not much use when he needs a shoulder to cry on.
When he was a little boy, he got all his support from his mother, Melanie Maynard. She was his role model, someone who worked endless hours to put food on the table for her family. It was her work ethic that propelled him through the Manchester United Academy, where he was known as the toughest dig of his and many generations.
It was her approach to life that led him to seize his opportunity with such determination, such as when he scored twice on his debut for United’s first team. It was her faith that he turned to when he was so horribly ridiculed by online trolls after missing a penalty in the 2021 European Championship final.
And it was her Christian values that informed his lockdown campaign for school meals for children. That was why those who criticized him when his form first began to dip for taking his eye off the ball in favor of good causes were so wrong: for Rashford, doing what was right was an essential part of who he was. is.
However, it is telling that, apart from his mother and two sisters, there is no other woman to whom he can turn. His relationship with his schoolyard sweetheart, Lucia Loi, reached a fever pitch on social media when their engagement was announced on Instagram in May 2022 with a series of staged photos of them standing among hearts and candles on a beach in Dubai.
But they have since broken up. And those who know Rashford quietly suggest he now fears not knowing whether potential girlfriends find his wallet most attractive.
So it is that, despite being surrounded by people whose livelihoods benefit from his success, his struggles with form and self-confidence remain, like George Best, largely his and his own. Granted, we’ve seen it with him before. A back injury caused his form to dip terribly in the 2021-2022 season. He bounced back.
But even this season, just when he is needed most for a team sinking into increasing malaise, he has been unable to shake the funk. Now comes his final youthful indiscretion.
From national treasure to blind drunk in Belfast: it’s a career he needs to reset quickly. Ultimately, how he handles that decline will determine how we view him.