I’ve been watching Marcus Rashford play football for years. If fans think they’ve seen the best of him already, they haven’t. Not by a long shot.
He’s got the fundamentals to be a top striker. He drives at defenders with pace which creates uncertainty. They know that if he gets past them then there’s no way they’ll catch him. Martin Dimichelis won’t forget his name - another defender unsure how to mark him. Defenders hang back, they back off, but even then Rashford is unpredictable.
Against Arsenal, he made a run behind the defenders with the ball. Instead of going for glory and shooting – and nobody would have minded had he done that – he quickly checked back and unselfishly laid the ball to Ander Herrera. Barça’s front three do that – they play for each other and the team and not just for themselves.
Rashford is a long way off that standard, but I’ve seen the Mancunian, who grew up in Withington, not Wythenshawe as everyone is saying, score free kicks and goals from outside the box. He’s clearly talented, but one thing which strikes me about him is how refreshing it is to see Manchester United’s traditional values paying off. By that I mean hard work mixed with talent, rather than an overdose of sports science.
Rashford needs no incentive. He’s a Mancunian United fan from a family of Reds – and he’s very family orientated. The club is in his blood – and very few other players at Old Trafford can say that. He was born into United and he plays like a streetwise Manc who fights for the shirt. He’s the player every young United- supporting lad in Manchester would love to be. You see similar attitudes on Hough End fields every Sunday – lads with a fraction of the talent but a love for football. Lads who are very sure of themselves.
Rashford has done several things which have impressed be since he made his debut less than a month ago. His five goals have made the headlines, but the night he scored those two against Arsenal, he went home. The following day, he was back at Carrington practising free kicks after training – not that he’s taking them for the first team yet. He didn’t rest on his achievements but wanted to go again.
That’s the attitude which helped David Beckham perfect his free-kicks. Or Gary Neville, who would practice headers after training, to play 600 times for United. Paul Scholes also used to stay behind after training to perfect his passing, Andy Cole would be there working on his finishing. As a young professional at United, I used to watch them all and admire them. Or I’d be asked to help them – a player can’t pass or head the ball to himself.
Rashford has that mentality too. He knows he has a lot more to learn and will concentrate on football, not the peripheral stuff. Ryan Giggs was protected and Giggsy, who was raving about him years ago, can keep an eye on him.
I like that fact he’s not on Twitter and that his Instagram profile is very limited. Too many players want to get Twitter famous when they do something which raises their profile. It can go to their head a little bit, the flush of attention. I’ve seen loads of players get distracted and start going out more, getting seen on the local seen. Rashford has never been spotted out in Manchester. Of course he’s entitled to a social life, but football (and school) must come first. He’s got exams to sit, too.
Another staggering thing about Rashford is that he’s only been a number nine for 14 months. He played wide right, on the left or as a number 10 as he came through the United junior teams.
Before his epic goal in the Manchester derby there were criticisms that he’d been played too much or that Louis van Gaal would coach his youthful exuberance out of him. I don’t see it. In Rashford, I see a player who has the intelligence and ability to absorb information from a coach and then incorporate it into his own game without losing his identity.
I’ve also heard people say he’s not ready yet. Well, what do they expect from an 18-year-old? Was Wayne Rooney ready? Michael Owen or Theo Walcott? All showed a massive appetite for the game and were unfazed playing against men. That’s enough for me.
Rashford has work to do, but he’s already an all round footballer. I saw him drop back into central midfield to cover for a teammate who’d been sent off and play in central midfield.
He’s got courage, pace and enough skills to embarrass opponents. I’ve seen that already. He’s got good movement too and he never stopped running, even when he has cramp.
I’m glad he’s taken his chance because he’ll only get better training and playing with better players around him.
This has been a great season for him so far and he’s learned so much playing across the different Manchester United teams – good and bad. In December, I saw him play for United’s under 18s in the FA Youth Cup against Chelsea. United were hammered by a far superior side but there were two players who left their hearts and soul on the pitch. One was Angel Gomes, who was a substitute. The other was Rashford. It wasn’t quite scoring the winner in the Manchester derby, but efforts such as these have paid dividends.