I was at the U21s Manchester derby at the Etihad stadium with my Dad a couple of years ago, just as something to do for the afternoon. Little did we know that one player in that game would be known as one of English football’s brightest talents just a week later.
The afternoon hadn’t got off to the best start. Our ticket confirmation Email had told us to collect our tickets from the ticket office outside the Etihad Stadium. We set off fairly early, luckily, as it turned out that we actually had to go to Old Trafford to collect our tickets. So, after shooting off across Manchester, we got our tickets and headed back to the Etihad. We missed the first ten minutes of the game, but we re-arrived at the Etihad to masses of United fans gathered outside the stadium having been not allowed in to see the match.
After being banded around by the very poor organisation and clear lack of communication between the clubs, we got into the Etihad. Despite the struggle to get into the game and City having the ‘home’ advantage, the United fans just about outnumbered the City fans.
The game itself wasn’t a great affair. It was cagey and very short on space, but City took the lead in the 17th minute, thanks to a low drive from Ashley Smith-Brown. It was in the second half when United were running at City from a counter-attack when a long-legged thin winger took the ball on the outside of the penalty area and began to drive at the right-back. His close control held onto the ball, and he managed to beat the full-back with a fantastic, Ronaldinhoesque flip-flap nutmeg, pushing the ball to his right but quickly drawing it back the other way in the same movement, sliding the ball between the defender’s legs and sprinting inside to play in a cross. Eventually, the move came to nothing, however, I said to my Dad at that time “Wow. That kid’s got something. That’s the kind of thing the senior team needs, someone who can beat a defender and create a chance”. That “Special Kid”‘s name? Marcus Rashford.
The U21s derby turned out to be Rashford’s last game for the second team, being rewarded for his performance with a start in the Europa League against FC Midtjyllend for the senior side, thanks to a last-minute injury to Anthony Martial, in a tie in which United had lost the away leg. Rashford got two second-half goals to win United the game and seal their place in the next round. He was soon given a place in the starting eleven against Arsenal in the Premier League, where the 17-year-old scored twice again in a 3-2 victory. Marcus Rashford had announced himself to the world.
Since then Rashford has scored 24 goals in 82 appearances for Man United, with a lot of those appearances coming from late substitutions. For someone who only finished their A-levels in June last year, he has already achieved more than most professional footballers will in their whole career, winning the FA cup, EFL cup and playing for England at Euro 2016, with a place in the World Cup squad almost a certainty.
The youngster from Wythenshawe clearly has plenty of potential, but can he realise it? We’ve seen many players at that age make a bright start but, ultimately, fail to make the grade with the pressure of the media weighing down on them. Players like Tom Cleverly, Ravel Morrison, and, of course, Adnan Januzaj, have all succumbed to the pressure. However, it seems the more people are watching him, the more scrutiny he comes under, the more he is expected to fail, the better he plays. Take his England debut. People were saying that he wasn’t ready, he was so young, but what happens? Nine minutes in, goal for Marcus Rashford.
He has had a regular place in United’s destructive attack this season, often grabbing a goal or assist, before being taken off for Anthony Martial late on, only for the Frenchman to do the same within ten minutes. Rashford’s relationship with Martial has been intriguing. Both young, quick players who have a deadly finish and can play either out wide or up top. It was when Martial was injured when United relied upon him so heavily during the 2015/16 season when Rashford made his breakthrough, and they have battled for places since. We rarely see both players starting alongside each other, and they both talk very little about each other, but there is no clear rivalry between them. What is for sure is that both have a very bright future ahead of them.
Rumours are now beginning to circulate about a new contract offer for the young forward, said to be including a dramatic wage boost. With his partnership with Romelu Lukaku blooming and his form being at a level it’s never before been at, it wouldn’t be surprising.
With a trip to Lithuania with the national team later this afternoon, once again all eyes will be on him to help follow up from England’s, frankly, boring game against Slovenia, hopefully injecting his pace and enthusiasm into the side to inspire a much more exciting performance.
So, do you think Marcus Rashford will achieve what is expected of him, or will he just turn out to be another Ravel Morrison? Leave your opinion in the comments below.
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