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Marcus Rashford has tested Erik ten Hag’s authority – the manager has a decision to make

Erik ten Hag’s ability to demand discipline and high standards from his squad is going to be placed under the microscope once again. 

The Manchester United manager now has to deal with the fallout from Marcus Rashford going out to a nightclub in Belfast in the early hours of Friday morning before reporting himself as too ill to train later the same day.

United were informed that the England international had only been out on Wednesday night, but The Athletic has seen confirmation that the 26-year-old attended Thompsons Garage, a nightclub in Northern Ireland’s capital, on Friday morning.

It is the second time this season Ten Hag will be faced with questions about Rashford attending nightclubs, with the striker being criticised by his manager for visiting Chinawhite in Manchester hours after United lost 3-0 to Manchester City in October. The Dutchman described it as “unacceptable” and called it an “internal matter”.

A fundamental part of Ten Hag’s managerial style is to ensure his players adhere to his set of rules, and short shrift is often given to those who fall foul of his standards — even at the expense of results on the pitch. 

Whether it is banishing Cristiano Ronaldo, exiling Jadon Sancho or dropping Rashford from the starting XI after he turned up late to a team meeting in December 2022, he has been consistent in wanting to maintain the squad’s professionalism.

And with ever-growing speculation about Ten Hag’s long-term future at Old Trafford following INEOS’ deal to buy a 25 per cent stake in the club, now more than ever, he needs to show he still has command of the dressing room.

United have won only three of their past 10 games in all competitions, losing five times, and face Newport County away on Sunday in an FA Cup fourth-round tie, with an upset against the League Two side an unthinkable prospect for the Premier League side.

It is unlikely Ten Hag would have known about Rashford’s trip to Belfast and they can have no complaints about him travelling to the capital of Northern Ireland on Wednesday evening, especially after he was at Carrington earlier in the day and it coincided with the squad being given Thursday off by their manager.

Rashford’s trip to Belfast included meeting his friend and former United youth-team graduate, Ro-Shaun Williams, who had signed for Larne, the country’s champions. Pictures were posted on social media of the England forward attending the club’s training facilities. 

There is nothing wrong with this, nor should it bring into question his judgement. It is what happened later that will surely now concern Ten Hag.

The crux of the issue is that United made it known they believed the images circulating on social media of Rashford visiting Thompsons Garage on Thursday night/Friday morning were from Wednesday night. But that wasn’t the case. Both Manchester United and Rashford’s camp declined to comment when contacted by The Athletic on Saturday.


Marcus Rashford made a pointed “talking” gesture, referencing the noise around him, after scoring against Tottenham this month (Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)

Sources close to Rashford have maintained he was back in Manchester in time for training but was ill. The private jet he travelled on landed back in the north-west before 8am on Friday.

But when you consider he was in a nightclub only hours earlier, it is not a good look — and you would expect Ten Hag to hold a similar view.

While it is unlikely Ten Hag — should he seek to discipline Rashford — would follow the same route he took with Sancho, a precedent has been set in terms of taking action.

Sancho was banished from the first-team squad in September as a result of his reaction to Ten Hag saying the decision to exclude him from the squad to play Arsenal was down to the player’s “performance in training”.

The club’s £73million ($92.8m) signing posted on social media that he had been made “a scapegoat for a long time” and effectively called the United manager a liar in a withering post. Ten Hag sought an apology, one wasn’t forthcoming and now Sancho has returned on loan to Borussia Dortmund for the remainder of the season.

Rashford’s punishment for lateness in December 2022 was to be dropped to the bench against Wolverhampton Wanderers. He came on to score the winner, admitting afterwards he “made a mistake” and could “understand” the action taken by Ten Hag.

At the time, there was no doubt it was Ten Hag’s way or the highway. He ruled the roost and occupied a strong position, with the team on an upward trajectory in the early months of his tenure.

But over a year on from that incident, and only several months on from calling Rashford’s visit to Chinawhite “unacceptable”, his authority is going to be challenged again — only this time, off the back of a torrid season to date, you wonder whether his message is going to be heard.

(Top photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)



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