Richard Buxton: Give Marcus Rashford a break, or risk breaking him
United star could burn out early like Rooney, if not properly managed
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stands at a familiar crossroads in Manchester United's latest dilemma.
Salvaging a forgettable season for the 20-time English champions with a short-term fix over long-term benefits is the conundrum facing the Norwegian ahead of tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) FA Cup third-round replay with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Whichever decision he takes on Marcus Rashford's involvement will be a gamble.
The question is how far-reaching the implications will become.
The beleaguered Red Devils manager knows that a first-hurdle humiliation would place him on the wrong side of history.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, only David Moyes has suffered that ignominy in the Old Trafford hot seat.
Statistical comparisons with "Dithering Dave" will do Solskjaer more harm than good in his attempts to see through a "cultural reboot" blueprint with his former club.
But the loss of personal face will seem incredibly minor if it comes at Rashford's expense.
At 22, the homegrown forward represents United's best hope, both in the interim and beyond.
His 64 goals and 31 assists from 200 games for the Red Devils have been among the rare upshots during the post-Ferguson era malaise which continues to engulf the Theatre of Dreams.
Without Rashford's goals, they would already be nine points worse off in the English Premier League this season.
The Stretford End still eulogises about how Wayne Rooney was the best player since Pele.
Growing up as a die-hard United fan, Rashford was part of the adoring masses that marvelled at each breathtaking moment that the former England captain produced on the pitch.
Playing alongside his one-time idol led to a changing of the guard that should have set alarm bells ringing about the emerging pattern between the pair's respective rises to prominence.
Like Rashford, Rooney's form during his peak years at United made him undroppable; a need to keep him firing took precedence over the importance of preserving his fitness levels.
By the time he had left, a player who was once a force of nature had become a truly spent force.
Mismanagement under a succession of managers, from Ferguson through to Jose Mourinho, threw Derby County's player-coach at the mercy of mortality.
He won every major honour that the game has to offer with United, but it came at the cost of longevity.
It is why the 34-year-old finds himself striving for a relevance in the second tier of English football, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic defiantly continues to lead the line with AC Milan, despite being four years his former teammate's senior.
Rooney, however, is not merely a cautionary tale of burnout, but part of a recurring theme.
Michael Owen, another ex-dressing room cohort for club and country, found himself stymied by a relentless desire to play every game possible in spite of growing pains and injuries.
No player has amassed more EPL appearances than Rashford since he made his first-team debut in February 2016.
The closest, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, sits three outings behind with the caveat of being eight years and two months older.
"If they are good enough, they are old enough," became Sir Matt Busby's most famous soundbite during United's glory years, but there is also a compelling case of having too much too young.
Solskjaer would do well to take his head out of United's history books and give Rashford a break.