With Marcus Rashford on the brink of a 30-goal season for the first time in his career, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag allowed himself a moment of satisfaction.
“I think I said it in the summer. The question came several times if I believe Rashford or (Anthony) Martial, one of them could score 20 plus goals and I said yes,” the Dutchman recalled on Friday.
Ten Hag is not the first United manager to put his faith in Rashford discovering his scoring touch.
The England striker has had hot streaks under Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but his inconsistency raised questions over his ability to be a goal scorer of the highest level.
That was until this season.
His winner against Real Betis in the Europa League on Thursday was his 28th of a career-best season that is getting better by the week.
His previous best was in 2019-20 when he scored 22 goals. Last season he managed just five in the entire campaign, a run that saw him dropped from the England squad, and raised doubts about his United future.
Rashford has been transformed under Ten Hag, who appointed former Blackburn forward Benni McCarthy as United’s striker coach last summer.
Ten Hag has also given Rashford a consistent role in his favored position on the left of attack after years of being moved around by previous managers.
Then there is the more attacking brand of football played by the former Ajax coach, which has already seen United win a first trophy in six years in the League Cup, while the team is still in contention for the FA Cup and Europa League.
“I think the most important (thing) is the way of playing. That gives him a base, gives him a structure, the way of play is in his favor because I knew his skills,” Ten Hag said at a news conference ahead of United’s FA Cup quarterfinal against Fulham on Sunday.
“Then you also need staff around who can make it better and make it progress. I thought we needed one on the staff who is specific and responsible for strikers. Benni is doing a good job.” Ten Hag added: “It’s a total package, and it’s not about one person.” Rashford is certainly flourishing under his new manager.
He has now scored 19 goals in his last 24 matches since returning from the World Cup in December.
To put that in context, Manchester City striker Erling Haaland has scored 16 in his last 18 games, including five against RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Ten Hag believes Rashford’s record could have been even better.
“He progressed during the season, he was also not in the best shape when he started the season,” he said.