Why Marcus Rashford is destined for Manchester United greatness
With United 2-0 up against Basel in the 84th minute at Old Trafford, on their return to the biggest stage of European football, the match all but over, Lukaku flicked the ball to Fellaini, whose cross from the edge of the box was missed by Mkhitaryan, but was swept home by 19-year-old Marcus Rashford. Yet another goal on yet another debut for the academy graduate who was born in Wythenshawe, 6 miles from the home of Manchester United.
The term 'wonderkid' is being tossed around too easily these days, but Rashford is one of the few who genuinely deserve it. The Red Devils have one of the most famous academies in England with a never ending production line and have churned out some of the best young talents in world football.
Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Darren Fletcher and Paul Pogba have all emerged from their youth set-up.
But the success of these legends often tends to divert people's attention from the several others who failed at United. Some of them have gone on to forge successful careers in other big European clubs, but the number of failures far outweigh the success stories. Consider the recent examples of Federico Macheda, Adnan Januzaj and Ravel Morrison.
What sets Rashford apart?
Januzaj and Macheda scored on their respective debuts for the senior team. The former scored a quick-fire brace against Sunderland in the Premier League to help United come from behind, while Macheda scored the winner against Aston Villa in 2009 in injury time with a spectacular curling effort from just inside the box. Ravel Morrison was a very promising youth player, considered even more talented than his fellow graduates Pogba and Lingard at one point of time, but ultimately never made an appearance for the senior team.
The one problem that all three of them had was their attitude. As Sir Alex Ferguson said, no player is above the team, and that was the reason why he fell out with the likes of Beckham and van Nistelrooy, for when a player starts thinking that he is bigger than the team, he no longer belongs at Manchester United. Attitude rather than talent or hardwork is the most important trait to succeed at the biggest club in England, and it is the reason why time and again, the Red Devils continue to produce the brightest young footballers in Europe.
And that is why Rashford has continued to perform at the biggest of stages without nerves or anxiety - because he is a true Mancunian who grew up supporting the club he now represents. United is a club that values loyalty more than anything else.
Rashford started off his career in the Europa League when he was a last minute inclusion in the starting line up against Danish team Midtjylland. United had suffered a shock defeat in Denmark in the first leg, and were dealt another huge blow when new signing Anthony Martial, who was in brilliant form, pulled his hamstring in the warm up and was ruled out of the second leg. The club had already been battling several other injury issues at that time, and what had initially seemed a straightforward tie had become a bit complicated. And that's when a little-known 18-year-old forward who had been formidable for the reserves stepped up.
Rashford scored twice on his Manchester United and Europa League debut, helping them record a thumping 5-1 win to progress to the next round. Fans, however, were a bit apprehensive that the latest academy graduate to have taken the first team by storm was yet another flash in the pan- yet another Januzaj or Macheda or Morrison. But barely a few days later, against all odds, United won 3-2 against Arsenal, who were heavily favoured to beat their weakened opponents. And yet again, it was Rashford who stepped up with a brace, this time on his Premier League debut.
Since then, he has been an integral part of his club, and recently, the England national team. His willingness to play anywhere the manager asks him to, shows his passion and love for the club, and he has succeeded as both a winger and a striker. With the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season, everyone expected the youngster to be relegated to a secondary role under Mourinho, especially given the Portuguese's infamous distrust of youth. Martial was more suited to playing on the wing than Rashford, which meant that his opportunities on the left would be limited as well.
But once again, he proved everyone wrong by establishing himself as a regular first teamer in a season where United won the Europa League, League Cup and the Community Shield. Martial provided healthy competition for him, but for the most part, Rashford was ahead of him in the pecking order.
The start of this season has once again shown that Jose is spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a left winger. Both Martial and Rashford have very similar styles of play, with loads of pace, dribbling, and a direct attacking approach that has made both of them crowd favourites at Old Trafford.
But ask any Mancunian and he would choose Rashford ahead of Martial on any given day. True, Martial is extremely talented and definitely is a big part of the club's future, but Rashford is a local lad, and all the fans see a part of themselves in him. His passion is visible in his work rate, his unrelenting charging up and down the pitch, contributing to both defence and attack.
He has scored on his Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup, England U21, and Champions League debuts. He's been capturing so much attention that Barcelona were actually linked with him, hoping to sign him as a long term replacement for Suarez who turns 31 next January. Still only 19, Rashford has already lit up every tournament he has been a part of, and we can only see him improving in the future, with the quality of coaches and teammates he trains with every week.
Local players like Rashford are the lifeblood of Manchester United, and will play a big role in rebuilding the team and propelling it to greater heights. With several other promising youth team stars like Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Axel Tuanzebe turning heads in the reserves, Rashford might well be the first of the next generation of United's academy superstars.
Marcus Rashford showing off his bag of tricks