IT’S been an incredible rise for Marcus Rashford.
Just 15 months ago he was a student no-one had heard of and tonight he is set to lead the line for Manchester United, one of the world’s biggest clubs, in a European final.
Our friends at Football Whispers profile his rise.
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Rashford wasn’t even meant to get his Manchester United debut when he did on February 25, 2016.
He was pretty much unheard of outside of Old Trafford, but had previously been on the bench for a couple of Premier League games against Watford and Leicester City in November 2015.
With United facing an injury crisis, with Wayne Rooney and Will Keane out, Rashford was named on the bench and he told his mum not to bother turning up because he wouldn’t make it onto the pitch.
But after Anthony Martial damaged his hamstring in the warm-up, he was elevated to a starting spot… And boy, did he take his chance.
There was a scare for the Red Devils as Pione Sisto put Midtjylland 1-0 up on the night and 3-1 up on aggregate, but the then 18-year-old scored twice as United won the match 5-1 and the tie 6-3.
He was clearly happy after the match, tweeting: “A dream debut, amazing feeling to score twice and contribute to the team. Onto the next round.”
The Midtjylland goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen admitted he was surprised to see the young forward included in the line-up.
“When I saw the name Rashford on the team-sheet, I was surprised as I’d never heard of him,” he said.
“I thought ‘they’ve put a kid up top against us,’ but I soon realised he was not there by chance.”
Rashford’s incredible form continued just three days later, when he scored twice in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal on his Premier League debut.
Aged 18 years and 120 days, he was exactly the same age as Wayne Rooney was on the day that they both scored their first Premier League brace.
And Arsene Wenger admitted he was impressed by the teenager.
“The player who was surprising for me talent-wise was Rashford because of the timing of his movement and his intelligence,” the Frenchman said.
”His movement in the box was great and he could be a very positive surprise for Manchester United on what I’ve seen.”
And Rashford celebrated his Premier League debut by going straight back to school the next day.
“I walked into the sixth-form common room on Monday morning, before lessons began, and Marcus Rashford was playing pool with one of the other sixth-form boys,” Ashton on Mersey School headteacher, Aidan Moloney, said.
“Marcus and Tim Fosu-Mensah wanted to be at school on Monday. They wanted to be around their friends.
“The staff went over to congratulate Marcus and Tim, and then at 9am, the bell went and they were straight down to lessons.”
But Rashford hasn’t stayed as a student for long, he’s now an established first-team player at Manchester United and also an England international.
And perhaps unsurprisingly, given his first-team and Premier League debut, Rashford scored on his first appearance for the Three Lions, a 2-1 win over Australia.
That volley after only 138 seconds at the Stadium of Light made him the youngest player – at 18 years and 208 days – to score on his England debut, beating the previous record set by Tommy Lawton in 1938.
He also came second to Renato Sanches in the Golden Boy award last year, given to the best under-21 talent in Europe.
Now 19, he has 70 appearances and 19 goals for Manchester United and is by no means seen as a rookie.
And he’s also no longer earning a schoolboy wage – in May he signed a new contract worth around £30,000 a week before win and other bonuses are factored in until 2020, with an option to extend it for a further year.
He’s also set to get a £10,000-a-week pay rise this summer as part of that deal.
For someone who is now regularly leading the line at a club as big as Manchester United, £40,000 a week seems like a bargain.
Red Devils legend Ryan Giggs admits his meteoric rise to prominence has surprised him, saying “I remember watching him the week before that game against Midtjylland], it may have even been three or four days before that game, training with the reserves.
“He obviously stood out and he looked sharp, but little did we know that three or four days later he would be starring and ending the season so well and then going onto the Euros with England.
“He is an exciting prospect. He is just so quick and direct, and you saw that against Blackburn in the FA Cup [where he scored in a 2-1 win].
“His best position, really, is through the middle, coming up with the goods and he is just an exciting player.
“I always say he is a Man United player because he is exciting, he has got a good mentality and he is tough. I think he’ll do well at United for a long, long time.”
And Giggs’ former team-mate Paul Scholes has also backed him to rise to the top.
“He will be a brilliant centre-forward, there’s no doubt about that,” he told BBC Five Live last month.
“People like Neymar, he’s got that kind of ability I think.
“It’s a lot to live up to I know that kind of ability but I think he’s got that in him and he can be a world star.”
While another Class of ’92 member Phil Neville thinks he could be as good as Manchester United transfer target Antoine Griezmann.
“Marcus Rashford is good enough,” Neville said.
“Marcus will need challenging all the time because he’s got so much ability
“You have got to be inspired by Griezmann [potentially] coming in, Marcus can be as good as Griezmann in two or three years’ time.”
But perhaps most importantly, his current boss also rates him, after a rocky start where it seemed the Portuguese didn’t favour Rashford.
But he’s definitely turned it around with Jose Mourinho.
Speaking after the Europa League semi-final first leg against Celta Vigo, where Rashford’s free kick gave his side a 1-0 lead to take to Old Trafford ahead of the second leg, the Manchester United manager said: “Marcus I trust and it doesn’t matter if he scores or if he doesn’t score. He is fantastic in his effort and his attitude.
“His qualities are fantastic but he was not scoring a goal since September.
“But his mentality [is good] even when he doesn’t get us goals.
“I kept confidence always in him and it looks like some other players don’t realise what makes me trust a player.”
And he’ll hope Rashford repays his trust tonight with a goal in the Europa League final against Ajax.