In January, it was reported that Erik ten Hag had imposed a strict wage cap at the club, decreeing that, from now on, no one would earn more than £200,000-a-week.
Under Ed Woodward, the club routinely broke the bank (and their wage structure) to sign big name stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Alexis Sanchez and many others. According to The Daily Mail, which broke the story, ten Hag’s wage cap is supposed to foster better relationships among teammates and end the long-festering culture of distrust and jealousy in the dressing room.
There’s plenty of room for skepticism, though. For one thing, ten Hag has not commented on the truth or veracity of this report.
For another, it doesn’t really add up. The Daily Mail claims that the highest wage earners at the club, other than David de Gea, are already in the £180,000-£200,000 per week range. That doesn’t jive with what’s been reported about Raphael Varane’s, Casemiro’s or Jadon Sancho’s wages, which are all reportedly at or above £300,000 per week (to say nothing of Anthony Martial, who reportedly takes home £250,000 a week).
It also effectively prices United out of getting big named players like Victor Osimhen, Frenkie de Jong, Jude Bellingham or Kylian Mbappe. None of those guys are coming to Old Trafford without a big contract in place.
Most importantly, it would mean that United would have to let Marcus Rashford walk in 2024 — possibly to Paris, Barcelona or Madrid.
At one point, that might have seemed like no big deal. Last season, he looked lost and disinterested, managing a meager 5 goals in 32 appearances. A nagging shoulder injury curbed his effectiveness while United’s lack of success and stability affected him mentally.
“I was struggling at times with more mental things. It wasn’t really my own performance but other things off the pitch,” Rashford said about last season.
He was also the target of more than his fair share of abuse. Whether it was social conservatives upset at his push to feed needy children during COVID-19 (an effort that earned him an MBE from the Queen in 2021) or racist England fans targeting him, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka for missing their penalty kicks during the Euro 2020(1) Final against Italy, Rashford has had a very difficult few years.
Understandably, it looked like he wanted to move on. Whether it came from a genuine desire to see what else was out there, or because, sometimes, we deal with our unhappiness by running away, Rashford clearly needed a fresh start. As such, his advisers reportedly spoke to Paris Saint-Germain about running down his contract at United before moving to the Parc des Princes in 2024.
It was ten Hag, however, that gave Rashford the fresh start he needed, and the forward has rewarded that faith with a spectacular, jaw-dropping run of form. Rashford has more goals than anyone in Europe since the World Cup, scoring 16 goals in all competitions, six more than the next closest player, Karim Benzema of Real Madrid.
His goals have been important for United and are the major reason why they’ve won 13, drawn 3 and lost 1 since the restart. For instance:
- Rashford has scored in every Premier League game since the restart, other than Crystal Palace 1-1 Man Utd on Jan. 18 — a/k/a the game where Casemiro picked up a late yellow card and forced him to miss the Arsenal defeat.
- The next highest scorer for United since the World Cup is Bruno Fernandes, with four goals in all competitions.
- As of this writing, Chelsea, which spent £323 million on transfers in January, only has 6 goals in all competitions since the World Cup. Rashford has six in all competitions in February — and there’s seven days left in the month. Liverpool has 16 goals in all competitions since the World Cup — equal to Rashford’s individual tally.
- He’s scored the go-ahead or match-winning goals in seven out of 10 league matches since the restart.
- He single-handedly destroyed Barcelona at the Nou Camp. In a match that featured Robert Lewandowski, it was Rashford who was the best forward on that night.
- Rashford’s individual brilliance has allowed United to weather the losses of Christian Eriksen to long-term injury and Casemiro to a three-match suspension for turning into Homer Simpson on Will Hughes of Crystal Palace.
Mostly, he just seems happier than he did last year. “It’s a complete different energy around the club and the training ground,” he said. “That puts me in a better headspace and I just feel really motivated now. That’s the area I was struggling in.”
Indeed, his widely-imitated goal celebration where he points to his head and closes his eyes (something Ruben Neves claims to have originated) seems indicative of his current mental state. While he has yet to explain what it means, he has not refuted reports that it refers to his clear mind and renewed focus.
Or maybe it’s him telling all of his critics that he doesn’t forget how they wrote him off. Maybe it’s him saying he remembers how people told him to stick to kicking the ball around and cool it with his social causes.
Or maybe it’s him imagining all the money he’s going to make on his next contract. While it’s concerning that United have yet to lock him down, it’s understandable why Rashford would want to wait until the offseason. Every goal he scores only adds to his value and gives him more leverage. If he can continue his exploits this week, with the return leg against Barcelona and the League Cup Final on the docket, his value will go sky-high.
And it will increase the pressure on ten Hag to back off his reported wage cap. Otherwise, there will be plenty of teams lining up to give him what he wants.