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Marcus Rashford: the raw beauty of Manchester United’s boy wonder

Since his dramatic ascent to the forefront of English football, it’s commonly perceived that Marcus Rashford’s career has stagnated under Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic attitude to the beautiful game – yet the 20 year old’s electric performance against Liverpool suggested otherwise.

Selected for his first start of 2018, Rashford was presented with an opportunity to make a lasting impression to the on-looking England manager and he duly obliged.  The Mancunian’s determination to make an impact at the weekend epitomised his career so far, as he’s becoming accustomed to producing heroics when it matters most.

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Purely by chance on the 25th of February 2016 Rashford was handed his first break, former United manager Louis Van Gaal already had a depleted squad and to make matters worse trailed by a goal after the first leg defeat at unknown quantity FC Midtjylland. To further compound the Dutchman, Anthony Martial sustained an injury in the warm up meaning all attacking options had been exhausted. Manchester United were forced to start a youth team starlet, equally as unproven as Midtjylland at this level and the then 18 year old has scarcely looked back since.

The away side on that occasion immediately took the initiative in the game and put themselves in control of the tie with a first half goal. An own goal from the Danish outfit only five minutes later put the Reds back in contention but Old Trafford was tense and frustrated due to Van Gaal’s dreary brand of football. Just past the hour mark that was all about to change. Mata somehow managed to produce a delightful cut-back to Rashford out of nothing, who from eight yards out duly tucked away the finish for his first United goal. Only 12 minutes later he repeated the feat and flipped the tie on its head, fittingly embracing the fans of the Stretford End who continue to offer unwavering support to “one of their own”.

Merely three days after a debut most could only dream of, the Englishman had another hurdle to overcome: Arsenal in his first Premier League start. Scoring a brace against FC Midtjylland was one thing but surely the Gunners would prove to be an entirely different entity.  Wrong. The 18 year old terrorised the defensive pairing of Gabriel and Koscielny, single-handedly derailing Wenger’s title ambitions, with two goals in three minute followed by an assist for the winner. Few have announced themselves to the world with such authority.

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Little has changed since, his double against Liverpool meaning he’s now found the net against arguably the four other largest clubs in English football – the weekend’s encounter cementing his reputation as a player who rises to the big occasion. Mourinho deserves plaudits for involving Rashford from the off, fundamentally proving his trust for the player and receiving a just reward for doing so.

Gareth Southgate was observing from the stands and may be rightfully tempted to follow suit this summer in Russia. At 20, he continues to show maturity far beyond his years and will have already established a relationship with Southgate during his time in the England youth sides. On the pitch the Mancunian has developed the ability to play out wide, opposed to exclusively down the centre, meaning he’s of much greater value to a small tournament squad.

Couple this with the fact few England teammates possess his blistering pace and dribbling ability, making him the ideal partner for a striker such as Kane, alternatively he can now “cut in” from out wide if England wish to only start one up top – something Jamie Vardy may struggle with. Beyond that, at Manchester United Rashford has won three trophies and learned the mentality it takes to do so, the same cannot be said for many of Spurs’ or Liverpool’s English contingents.

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Southgate may also wish to exploit Marcus Rashford’s telepathic relationship with United teammate Jesse Lingard at the World Cup, as the latter has enjoyed a fruitful campaign and is in with a shout of dislodging Alli from the starting eleven.

Regardless of whether Rashford starts for England or not, he has an incredibly bright future ahead of him at Old Trafford and should remain central to their plans if they wish to maintain the identity of a club who promotes players from their youth system. Whilst Kylian Mbappe is perceived to be a future world beater and has contributed to 20% of PSG’s league goals this season, Rashford’s hand in 19% of Manchester United’s Premier League goals exemplifies his worth to the side and under considerably more challenging circumstances than Ligue 1. Overall he has all the drive, ability as well as the platform to emulate Wayne Rooney’s position as Manchester United and England’s leading man in the not so distant future. 

Written by Harvey Sayer.

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