Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford became a serious target for Barcelona in late 2018, with a view to a transfer in summer 2019. The forward even initially agreed to the Camp Nou switch and talks with his brother/agent took place, it has been claimed in Spain.
Rashford was the brightest talent to emerge from United’s famed academy since the Class of ’92, but despite showing promise in 2016/16 and 2017/18, the club seemed to take a big step backwards in the autumn of 2018 and manager Jose Mourinho was ultimately sacked.
At the time, Rashford was only under contract at his boyhood club until the summer of 2020 and it was a delicate situation for United, with any failure to agree a fresh deal coming with the risk of losing their rising star for free unless they were willing to sell him in 2019.
Barcelona, who had already been eyeing long-term target Antoine Griezmann and were also considering a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez, seemingly saw an opportunity.
Mundo Deportivo (MD) describes a ‘very serious attempt’ to sign Rashford and their report explains that Barça sought to gauge how the player’s camp would feel about a potential move, with the star (initially at least) 'saying yes' .
Bearing in mind that United were struggling as the Mourinho era crumbled, MD claims that Rashford was ‘excited’ about the possibility of joining Barcelona, both as a step forward for his career and development and as a significant boost to his earning potential.
It is claimed that Barça officials spoke with Rashford’s brothers, who look after his interests as agents, took place in late 2018 and early 2019. Even when Griezmann indicated he was willing to make the move after previously snubbing the club to stay at Atletico Madrid, MD claims the ‘Rashford option’ was not abandoned.
It is even suggested by the Barcelona-based publication that Rashford’s brothers agreed not to renew in Manchester that would ultimately force his departure.
In the end, MD writes that it was Rashford himself who decided against pursuing the interest from Barça any further. It is said to have been his doubts about whether it was too soon at 21 to make such a move, whether he could adapt to a new football culture, a new dressing room, as well as a different language and lifestyle away from the pitch, that informed his decision.
Instead, Rashford stayed at United and signed a new long-term contract in July 2019 as he entered the final 12 months of his previous deal, keeping him at Old Trafford until 2023 – plus an option for another year on top of that until 2024.
By that time, Rashford had already begun to emerge as a new talisman for United, showing nerves of steel as he scored the dramatic stoppage time penalty that completed an historic Champions League two-legged comeback against Paris Saint-Germain.
A patchy start to the 2019/20 season followed as United again struggled, but Rashford really hit his stride from late October when Anthony Martial recovered from injury and he could back to his favoured position as a wide forward operating from the left.
By the time he suffered a back injury in January, prompting United to sign Odion Ighalo on a short-term deal, Rashford had scored 19 goals in 31 appearances across all competitions this season – by far the best return of his fledgling career to date.
That injury threatened to end his season prematurely, yet the lengthy three-month pause enforced by the coronavirus crisis will see Rashford get the chance to return later this month when Premier League football finally resumes.