Rashford has the world at his feet


Instead, he has been to Sunderland. Less glamorous maybe but historic nonetheless. On Friday, Rashford became England’s 10th youngest international and has enjoyed a more meteoric rise than anyone else on the list including Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Raheem Sterling. After 138 seconds, he also become England’s third youngest goalscorer - and the youngest ever on debut.

How ironic then, that he should have been shaped by Dutchmen. Firstly, Sir Alex Ferguson’s No2 Rene Meulensteen, whose belief in allowing youngsters freedom sparked Rashford’s development. Then the recently departed Louis van Gaal, who brought him into the first team and kept him there.

United’s gain is now England’s gain. Roy Hodgson was considering taking him to Euro 2016 for the experience, whether in the final 23-man squad or not. But that goal and calf problems for Daniel Sturridge mean he now looks certain to go on merit anyway.

One unexpected casualty is his first junior club, Fletcher Moss Rangers. They had pencilled in Rashford to do a presentation for the new generation of youngsters on July 10 - day of the Euro 2016 final - but that plan has had to be scrapped because Rashford will either still be in France or finally taking that delayed holiday.

‘The world is his oyster,’ says Meulensteen, who was at United when Rashford first walked in as a seven-year-old. ‘I know Marcus. He’s very solid and down to earth and, with experience, he will only get better. The United mentality is ingrained in him.’

Comparisons between Rashford and Rooney are obvious and not just because England’s record goalscorer also made his debut against Australia. In many ways, Rashford’s progress has been more startling.

Whereas Rooney had played in an FA Youth Cup Final and scored senior goals for Everton before his famous one against Arsenal, Rashford was completely off the radar with only a couple of United Under-21 games behind him when he scored twice on debut against FC Midtjylland in February.

Now he has scored for the Three Lions after 18 first-team appearances and eight goals for his club. Even the prodigious Rooney had played 26 times for Everton, scoring five times, when he first represented his country.

It is a story that has stoked the interest of another former teen idol. ‘You can see he has the tools. His strength, movement and nose in front of goal. He knows where to stand and all this at 18,’ says Dutch legend Patrick Kluivert, who scored a Champions League final winner for Ajax at the same age. ‘There are similarities in our styles. I was proud when Louis van Gaal compared us. I loved it.’

Kluivert has a point. It is Rashford’s versatility that pricked Hodgson’s interest so late, having bypassed the England Under-21s.

His pace and trickery make him a natural winger. Yet he sniffs goals like a top-line centre-forward. All of his goals for United have come from inside the penalty area; five first-time finishes, two solo dribbles and a header. The volley against Australia after Sterling’s shot had flipped up in the air was pure striker’s instinct. Like Danny Welbeck, the player whose injury has given Rashford his chance, and Wes Brown, the road to England began at Manchester’s famous junior club Fletcher Moss.

Aged nine, he had the choice of signing his first formal contract for United or Manchester City, after training with both. City were closer to his new family home in Fallowfield but United’s practise on Sunday mornings excited him more.

Fletcher Moss coach David Horrocks, who ferried him to training, said: ‘United developed individual skills. The ethos was laid down by Meulensteen. It suited Marcus because he was allowed to have the ball rather than just pass-pass-pass. Marcus decided he wanted to go to United. He could see himself being a better footballer under their programme.’

Like all United’s promising kids, Rashford was educated from the age of 13 at Ashton on Mersey School in south Manchester and now attends its Sixth Form. Living in nearby digs, he did his secondary school work until 2pm followed by three hours’ training each day. Mum Mel used to come and watch when there was a game. She was there again, in tears, at the Stadium of Light on Friday.

Quiet by nature, Rashford’s older brother Dwaine is the vocal one in the family and has guided his career to date even though Europe’s leading agents, including Jorge Mendes, are now knocking at his door. There have already been many highlights in his short career. The winner in the Manchester derby. An FA Cup cracker at West Ham en route to winning the trophy at Wembley.

He does, however, remain shy. Lingard, 23, has taken on the role of big brother at United and chauffeurs Rashford when they need to be at a railway station or airport for away matches. ‘It’s become a running joke - we ask Marcus if he’s old enough to drive because we always see him with Jesse,’ says an insider. For the record, Rashford has a licence.

Team-mates and the club have been supportive and Rashford has been protected from doing even in-house interviews for MUTV or the club programme due to his age.

Rooney, who must get pangs of nostalgia when he sees the attention Rashford is getting, chuckles because he had not trained with the teenager when he replaced him in the final minute of United’s sixth-round replay at Upton Park. And it was only after his winner against City in March that Rashford was allowed to change in the first-team dressing room before training. No, not another example of Van Gaal’s eccentricity but more to do with the culture maintained by Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt, who do not think kids should be rewarded too soon.

He belongs now because of his incredible talent. ‘It’s unbelievable to see a really young player score many goals like that,’ says United’s Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea.

And if Hodgson is deliberating where to play Rashford, Juan Mata has some advice. ‘He has to be in the box because every time he is in the box, he scores. He has helped us with his goals and his movement.’

The big question now is whether he can take the next step for England at a major tournament. Alan Shearer, England’s hero at Euro 96, thinks so. ‘He has energy, pace and when he has been given the chance in front of goal he hasn’t let anybody down. He’s a breath of fresh air.’

Horrocks has known him for longest and is proud that another Fletcher Moss old boy may take the place vacated by Welbeck’s injury.

‘Marcus has more pace than Danny,’ says Horrocks. ‘And he has the same mentality to training that Eric Cantona had. He’s hungry for the ball and is built like an athlete, a tremendous pair of shoulders. I’ve seen him cracked in the face and bounce right back up.’

It is already difficult to believe that the highlight of 2015 for Rashford was scoring his first and only goal for United’s U21s against Leicester on December 14. That very same night, Leicester’s first team were ending the career of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.

Six months on and the pair are about to work together at Old Trafford. For now, that can wait. Rashford’s focus is all on England.

‘He hasn’t let anyone down... he is a breath of fresh air’

Mail On Sunday

Original source: Rashford has the world at his feet