Marcus Rashford Turns 20: How ‘late Developer’ Grew Into a Superstar

 Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring opn his Manchester United against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League only 18 months ago. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring opn his Manchester United against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League only 18 months ago. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
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Marcus Rashford Turns 20: How ‘late Developer’ Grew Into a Superstar

 Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring opn his Manchester United against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League only 18 months ago. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring opn his Manchester United against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League only 18 months ago. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

The thrill for Marcus Rashford as he turns 20 is where the rest of his career might take him.

In 18 months the boy who ceases to be a teenager on Halloween has claimed FA Cup, Europa League and EFL Cup winners’ medals for Manchester United. He has made his England bow, played at Euro 2016 and scored on his senior, Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup, Champions League and international debuts. This is a young star who, each time opportunity knocks, smashes down the door to grab it.

The United trainee’s rise has been so rapid it seems barely credible that his first appearance came in February of last year. Then, Rashford seized his chance against FC Midtylland at Old Trafford, scoring twice in a Europa League last‑32 second leg as Louis van Gaal’s side won 5-1. Rashford started only because Anthony Martial limped out of the warm-up and Will Keane, who should have been among the replacements, was also injured.

“You can’t predict what the outcome, the reaction will be when somebody goes out in front of 75,000,” says Kenny Swain, Rashford’s England Under-16 manager. “When you do like Marcus did, it gives the coaching staff such a thrill. You see his performance, how well he did, and think: ‘Wow! I wouldn’t have predicted that, he’s just played out of his skin.’ It is almost like an out-of-body experience – that’s what Marcus did.”

As a junior footballer Rashford possessed glittering potential but lagged behind peers in physical development. A first taste of the big time came when Van Gaal chose him as a substitute for the Premier League match at Watford on 21 October 2015. Rashford was 10 days from turning 18 and, alongside him, was Sean Goss, two years his senior.

Goss, a midfielder who left for Queens Park Rangers in January, says: “We’d been training the week building up – the first team had a problem with all the strikers getting injured and people automatically thought the older lads would be on the bench. We trained and Marcus did really well, better than the older lads, so he got his chance and me as well, which ended up in us going to Watford.

“We got told on the Friday afternoon by Ryan Giggs [Van Gaal’s assistant]. Marcus wasn’t in our changing room because he was in the youth team then. I got told and the other two lads who had been training with us were with me in the reserve changing room but didn’t get told anything. We all naturally thought it would be one of them. Then on the bus on the way to the airport Marcus came on and was buzzing. He hasn’t looked back since, has he?

There has been scant time to. Swain, who selected Rashford for two under-16 matches in 2012, describes the youthful Rashford in glowing terms. “Pure technical – wonderful balance,” says the 65-year-old, a league and European Cup winner with Aston Villa. “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. People would talk about George Best in his day and he was such a wonderful mover on the ball. Marcus had that, h. He was very graceful, the way he moves.

“Things like power, strength, acceleration don’t come until a bit later. He’s acquired those now, he’s picked up tremendous pace, and is much stronger.”

Rashford would have featured more for Swain’s under-16s but United were careful to protect a lad who has been theirs since the age of seven. Swain says: “Marcus was a late developer. He was a talented boy, no doubt. I’d seen him play for Man United a couple of times, he came into the training camp and only played two Victory Shield games. He was way underdeveloped compared with others of his age.

“In terms of his limited appearances that was down to an understanding I had with the United coaches. His progress was carefully plotted and [the view was] exposure with England would’ve been too much at that stage. I understood that, so his chances were limited at under-16.”

Rashford’s 53 appearances under José Mourinho last season were the side’s most. The manager often uses him in a wide role, though his breakthrough came at centre-forward, his preferred position.

Goss witnessed how much Rashford, a captain of United’s under-19s, wanted to make it. “He’s always had a little something; he maybe wasn’t fully grown into his body then,” Goss says. “You could just tell there was still a lot to come but he definitely had that part where he could change the game in an instant. He works his nuts off in training and outside of it. He’s one of those who absolutely loves football. I’m sure he could train all day and would want to go home and play football. That’s the way it is – whether it’s five-a-side with his mates, skills in his living room, he’s got that passion.”

Goss still talks with Rashford regularly and says success has not affected a player for whom the bidding would start at £80m-plus. “He really is mature for his age, down to earth. Nothing’s changed him, which has really helped in some ways, because he’s not got ahead of himself and he’s always looking to improve. He knows who his friends are; he wouldn’t get sucked into any bad eggs – he keeps himself to himself. It is the maturity thing. He’s always hung around with people older than him, which has pushed him because he’s been competing against people who are older.”

Rashford’s 2015-16 campaign ended with eight goals in 18 United appearances, plus one in three for England. Last season’s 53 games yielded 11 goals, plus five more international caps, with Mourinho arguing that Rashford’s third term would prove a step-change in development and form.

So far the Portuguese is correct: in 15 matches the return is seven goals (plus one in four for England) and the 6ft 1in Rashford continues to impress with his game-breaking blend of directness, dribbling and pace.

Mourinho’s trust will again be illustrated by choosing Rashford to replace Romelu Lukaku should the Belgian be rested for Tuesday night’s visit of Benfica for the fourth Champions League Group A match. If so, Rashford will calmly expect he can turn in another scintillating display for his boyhood team.

Goss says: “It’s definitely a dream for him – he was at the academy from a young age. And he’s only going to get better as well. He’s not going to take his foot off the gas. He will always work hard. I do believe that he will get far better as a player. He has got that mental edge that can take you so far and whenever he’s playing he truly thinks: ‘Right, I’m better than you, I’m going to try my tricks.’ He thrives off the big occasions. He’ll want to do something special to get his team a goal or get his team a win, which with a player that age is massive.”

Rashford has always been focused on what can push him on. “Marcus, even though he lived in Manchester, moved out young,” Goss says. “He went into digs, did the same as all the other lads, training with the older age groups. As much as at the time you probably don’t like it, don’t think it’s the best for you, in the long run it will help.”

If Rashford’s nascent career has been glittering, his future could be whatever he wishes. As Goss adds: “He’ll never settle for not being the best.”

The Guardian Sport



Men’s Olympic Soccer Remains Stuck in the Game’s Second Tier

The last five champions have all been Latin American, largely because of the willingness of Argentina and Brazil to send major stars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar.  (file photo/The AP)
The last five champions have all been Latin American, largely because of the willingness of Argentina and Brazil to send major stars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar. (file photo/The AP)
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Men’s Olympic Soccer Remains Stuck in the Game’s Second Tier

The last five champions have all been Latin American, largely because of the willingness of Argentina and Brazil to send major stars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar.  (file photo/The AP)
The last five champions have all been Latin American, largely because of the willingness of Argentina and Brazil to send major stars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar. (file photo/The AP)

The Poststadion still stands, about 10 minutes’ walk north-west of Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof. It’s set up for American football these days and this summer it was the centre of Berlin Pride. But in 1936, it was there that Adolf Hitler, for the only time in his life, attended a football match.

Hitler, like a lot of dictators, was suspicious of football. It was too unpredictable, the crowds that followed it too large and anarchic. But Germany had been impressive in beating Luxembourg 9-0, and nobody thought much of Norway, so Hitler, along with several other senior Nazis including Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels and Rudolf Hess went to the quarter-final.
Germany’s assistant coach was Sepp Herberger, who would later lead West Germany to victory at the 1954 World Cup. He had been sent to watch Italy v Japan, the winners of which would play the winners of Germany’s quarter-final, so he was not at the Poststadion. He returned to the team base and was tucking into a dinner of knuckle of pork and sauerkraut when he saw one of the other coaches, Georg Knöpfle, return. He knew from his face it had all gone badly wrong, pushed his plate away and never ate knuckle of pork again. Germany had lost 2-0.

Italy beat Norway in the semi-final and went on to overcome Austria in the final, adding Olympic gold to the World Cup they had won two years earlier. They would add another World Cup in 1938. But their coach, Vittorio Pozzo, always said that 1936 was arguably his greatest achievement given he was in effect leading a team of students (albeit five of them subsequently turned pro). In Germany, by contrast, there was no professional football and so the host’s squad was a full-strength one.

That’s always been the problem with men’s Olympic football. Unlike the women’s game, which has no limitations on who is eligible to play, the men’s tournament has dealt with restrictions and questions of amateurism. And different countries have interpreted amateurism in different ways, with a huge bearing on results. The Uruguay team that took gold in 1924 and 1928, for instance, was undeniably brilliant but very few of their players would have met more stringent European definitions of amateurism; Jules Rimet, the president of Fifa, essentially waved them through to enhance non-European participation and to give the competition a more global feel.

That’s why from 1952 to 1988, every Olympic football gold (bar 1984 when the eastern bloc countries boycotted the games) was won by a team from a communist nation. Their players were technically state employees working in the army or the interior ministry or for various factories or unions and so were deemed amateur as they were not officially paid for playing sport. That’s not to say none of them were great teams – the Hungary of 1952 went on to reach the final of the 1954 World Cup; the fine Soviet Union team of 1956 would be devastated before the next World Cup by the conviction of their centre-forward Eduard Streltsov for rape; the Poland side of 1972 eliminated England in qualifying for the 1974 World Cup at which they finished third – but neither were they competing against the cream of the rest of the world.

After the collapse of communism, the men’s tournament has been for under-23 players, with three overage players permitted from 1996. Spain in 1992 were widely regarded as one of the great home successes of the Barcelona Olympics, and their squad did include Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique. At its most generous interpretation, there was evidence there of the beginnings of the superiority of Spanish youth development, but it would be a long time before that manifested as a major international trophy.

There were thrilling victories for Nigeria in 1996 and Cameroon in 2000, which seemed part of a more general process of improvement in African football. Since then, though, at least in terms of getting closer to challenging seriously for a World Cup, African football has largely stagnated.

Philadelphia Union midfielder Cavan Sullivan looks on during Wednesday’s game against the New England Revolution at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.

The last five champions have all been Latin American, largely because of the willingness of Argentina and Brazil to send major stars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar. Kylian Mbappé seemingly wanted to play this time but after competing in the Euros, his club Real Madrid refused to grant him a waiver to play this summer. France’s overage players are Loïc Badé, Alexandre Lacazette and Jean-Philippe Mateta. Argentina are sending Gerónimo Rulli, Julián Álvarez and Nicolás Otamendi. Spain haven’t named a player over 24 and only two of their squad have ever won a full cap, suggesting how they regard the competition. The US, meanwhile, have named only one uncapped player, with their roster featuring 114 combined senior caps. Mali will lead the African challenge, while there will be obvious symbolism to Ukraine’s participation.

But the truth is that in men’s football, the Olympics doesn’t really matter and hasn’t done so since the advent of the World Cup, providing a tournament for all players, amateur and professional, in 1930. At best, it offers a snapshot of a political mood or provides evidence of promising young players who may develop over the decade to follow. No Olympic gold is entirely worthless, but few mean less than that in men’s football.

The Guardian Sport