Marcus Rashford’s back was giving him such pain in the days leading up to his fateful appearance against Wolverhampton Wanderers last week that he was struggling just to sit down for an interview, it has emerged.
The Manchester United and England striker filmed an interview with Ryan Giggs at Hotel Football next to Old Trafford the weekend of the 4-0 win over Norwich but the discomfort in his back was so acute that he was forced to stand up for long periods of it.
Despite concerns about his existing back problems, Rashford was then brought on as a second half substitute in the FA Cup third round replay at home to Wolves a few days later and suffered a double stress fracture following a collision with Matt Doherty that will keep up him for up to three months, and possibly longer.
With Harry Kane already sidelined until April, Rashford’s injury raises more fears for Gareth Southgate, the England manager, ahead of Euro 2020 this summer.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer denied after his side’s 2-0 defeat by Liverpool on Sunday - which led to former captain Gary Neville calling for the club’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, to be sacked - that Rashford had gone into the Wolves match with a single stress fracture.
But United were accused on Monday of failing to give Rashford adequate protection as the striker was warned by two former players who have suffered stress fractures to the back not to rush his return and that he could be left with a weak spot he is forced to manage for the rest of his career.
“I had a similar injury, a stress fracture in my lower back. I was out with that for four months,” Robin van Persie, the former United and Arsenal striker said.
“You can’t really do much, you have to just rest and let it heal. But it is a difficult one because it always stays a little bit like a weak spot. Even now, it is not that I’m in pain or something, but it’s a sensitive area. So you have to be really careful with that.
“They will miss him [Rashford] so much. It’s a big blow for Manchester United.”
Solskjaer had admitted after the Norwich game that Rashford was playing with problems that would require management and, in the wake of the Wolves match, conceded the player had been hampered by existing back problems.
Rashford’s back complaints go back a few years and has been using a fracture healing machine called a Melmak device, at home and before games, this season to try to ease the acute pain.
No player in the Premier League has played more games than Rashford since his debut in Feb. 2016 and his workload last month - eight games in 28 days - is believed to have taken a particular toll.
He has also been playing with some floating bone in his ankle for the past 11 months dating back to a challenge by Jordan Henderson in a 0-0 draw against Liverpool last February. Rashford will now undergo a small operation to remove it and his absence has left Solskjaer looking at emergency short-term signings, although United cannot bring Chile striker Alexis Sanchez back from his loan spell with Inter Milan because there is no recall clause in the arrangement.
Harry Maguire is currently playing with a small hip muscle tear although there are thought to be no real concerns about the United and England centre half aggravating that problem.
Jamie O’Hara, the former Tottenham midfielder, developed a single stress fracture during a loan spell with Portsmouth. It became a double stress fracture because he kept playing and eventually required surgery in 2010. In total, he was out for nine months. He believes United should have taken better care of Rashford.
“I can’t believe that the medical team at Man United have allowed him [Rashford] to carry on playing once … they must have known he had a stress fracture,” O’Hara told Talksport.
“They must have been worried about his back, he’s gone for an X-ray... There needs to be a time when there is protection for a player who is at Manchester United, a massive player, a young kid, where the medical team go, ‘You need to step out because this is only going to get worse’.
“Now United have lost him at the most crucial period of the season and potentially England have lost him. I’m gobsmacked they’ve allowed him to continue playing at that age.”
Meanwhile, Neville has called for the Glazer family, United’s owners, to sack Woodward. United have spent around £850 million on players since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and have the Premier League’s highest wage bill but are currently 30 points adrift of leaders Liverpool in fifth.
“If you don’t lose your job for essentially overseeing that investment, that wage bill, and putting that team out on the pitch then I have to say something is really wrong,” he told the Gary Neville Podcast.
Ian Wright, the former Arsenal striker, waded into the debate on Monday night by accusing Solskjaer of putting himself above Rashford’s health.
“Solskjaer’s under intense pressure to get United back where they were and he’s thought about himself before he thought about the player – Solskjaer has put himself above Marcus Rashford’s health,” Wright told BBC 5 Live.
‘Now, one of their most promising and most important players is out and that has to come to the manager’s door. With the problems he is having with his back, you can’t mess around with that and Solskjaer has to take some blame in still playing him.”