HE’S a happy-go-lucky single lad, enjoying his teens and yet in football terms, England manager Gareth Southgate has sensationally described Marcus Rashford as a “must” for the World Cup.
The Manchester United striker shows every time he’s on the field why he’s someone exemplary and extraordinary. He further gave massive evidence why he has to be on the plane to Russia in June with yet another sensational performance in the 2-1 home win over Liverpool, when he scored twice in the first game he had started in the English Premier League this year.
It’s simply remarkable quite how much a teenager has achieved in the 19 months since being thrust into an injury-hit United first team against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League. He has become both a fans’ favourite and key player at United, while his outstanding potential saw him fast-tracked into England’s squad for Euro 2016.
Strange, he has not been playing much recently. But United manager Jose Mourinho says Southgate has told him that does not matter and that Rashford will definitely be in the World Cup squad.
Rather ironical, because among the 32 countries that’ve qualified for the World Cup, every player is fighting for his position to reach the ultimate world stage. Yet Rashford has been guaranteed he will walk in!
In my opinion, Rashford is a God-sent prodigy to football, with the blessed height, weight, speed, stamina and determination to make an instant impact when he has the ball.
Pure magic. England just don’t have many players who can do that effectively.
Eye-catchingly, his pace scares defenders and is another reason he is such a handful because he likes to take them on. He is very direct, he gets at people and we know he can finish too – his first goal against Liverpool was brilliant. He simply ran on to Romelu Lukaku’s flick, then, when he got inside the Liverpool box, he did a little trick to wrong-foot Trent Alexander-Arnold and his finish was absolutely first class. Nobody saves shots like that.
He now has 12 goals for United this season, surpassing his previous best of 11 from 2016-17.
Southgate will be using him for the upcoming international friendly matches against Holland and Italy at the end of March.
“Rashford does not strike me as the kind of player that gets rattled by very much anyway, which is another big positive considering his age,” says Singapore’s award-winning former national coach Jita Singh. “I like the way for a teenager he stands up for himself too – if someone kicks him, he can handle himself and he does not seem very bothered by it.
“Overall, his attitude is very good all-round. You only had to watch him against Liverpool to see him tackling back and helping his left-back Ashley Young, which shows he is a team player.”
“Pure technical – wonderful balance,” says ex-Malaysia Cup icon midfielder R. Suriamurthy, once ranked as one of Singapore’s most talented players in the 1980s. “He was always at one with the ball; he could roll it, stroke it about. The best talent I’ve seen have usually got that. Yes, we’ve people would talk about George Best in his day and he was such a wonderful mover on the ball. Marcus had that. He was very graceful, the way he moves.
“I must say that skills like power, strength, acceleration don’t come until a bit later. But Marcus has acquired those now, he’s picked up tremendous pace, and is much stronger.”
United’s Spain World Cup winner Juan Mata describes Rashford as a “very special kid” with the attitude and aptitude to shine for years to come. He says: “I think he has been brilliant. He is a very special kid. I think he has a lot of talents and he has got a good mentality which is important in that age. And he is performing very well, week in week out, even coming from the bench he is helping a lot. I really believe he is going to be a big player for club and country.
BOY FROM SAINT KITTS
“It’s down to everything he does on the pitch, the qualities he has, the important player he is in some difficult games where he just takes the ball and scores two great goals like last time in the league cup (against Burton). But I see so many players at that age like this, and then they don’t keep consistency, but I believe he can because it’s down to his mentality and he has the right mentality for that.”
Rashford was born in Wythenshawe, Manchester, and is of Kittitian (from West Indies island of Saint Kitts) descent. He began playing football for Fletcher Moss Rangers at the age of five and joined the academy system at United at the age of seven.
Amazingly, at 18 years and 141 days old, he stamped his mark as the youngest player to score in a Manchester Derby, his first League Cup match and his first UEFA Champions League match. He also scored on his England debut in May 2016, becoming the youngest English player to score in his first senior international match. He was chosen for UEFA Euro 2016.
Former United manager Louis van Gaal, who gave Rashford his full EPL professional debut, says: “He has no nerves, he’s very focused on his work. I admire when you are so young and with so much attention now. He’s scoring important goals. He can cope with that attention and focus on the next match, and when you have criticism he can cope also.”
Van Gaal may have led Rashford to water but that ability to pop up in the right place at the right time isn’t something you can coach. Goal poachers come and go and rely on chances being created – Rashford has already shown that he can also make his own.
This makes him different to a similarly slim-built player like Javier Hernandez, who while adept at turning up in the positions that lead to tap-ins, doesn’t really have the pace, technique and skill to create something out of nothing.
Mind you, Michael Owen burst on to the scene as a 17-year-old, scoring 23 goals in 44 games in his first full season at Liverpool. He was already touted as a future world star before his introduction to English football. Rashford has arrived in less heralded fashion, but his return of five goals in his first eight matches should be regarded as extremely impressive.
“Rashford is no surprise to me at all,” former England star Paul Scholes said earlier this month. “I’ve seen him play since he was 14 or 15 – you always knew the talent was there. He’s only played a few times for the first team and his goals have been what you’d call ‘goalscorers’ goals’ but he’s got so much more than that.”
Believe me, United and England fans always wanted a new local hero. They have finally found one. Rashford has the early potential to be another Pele.
• Suresh Nair has covered global football for over three decades and rates Marcus Rashford as a true-blue prodigy player with the perfect mentality to be one of the greatest footballers ever.