How young Rashford took his chance at United

Chris Smalling has recalled the first time he saw Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford in a training game.

The 21-year-old forward, who has signed a new long-term contract with the club, enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks when afforded his first-team opportunity due to an injury crisis in 2016. Of course, he took that chance with both hands by scoring doubles against Midtjylland, in the Europa League, and Arsenal, in the Premier League, at Old Trafford.

Experienced United defender Smalling was immediately taken aback by the sheer pace of the youngster and impressed by his confidence and personality.

Video
Marcus Rashford walking off the pitch at Old Trafford.
Watch the highlights from Rashford's United debut against FC Midtjylland back in 2016.

“Obviously, it was under Louis van Gaal when I first came across him,” Smalling told us. “Going through that week, a few of the strikers had got injured and then, as Louis was very confident in the youngsters, he got the youth team to come over and we played a game against them.

”I remember, one time, the ball got played in behind and I can’t remember who was playing at left-back for us but I just saw Rashy zoom down to get the ball. At that moment, everyone took notice of him. It was only a matter of a week or a couple of weeks after that when he made his debut and obviously hit the ground running. It was that first sprint down the wing, I think, when a lot of us were asking: ‘Who is this kid?

“He was playing wide, well he was in that session, but they said he was a striker and he was filling in for whomever in that position. Will Keane was waiting for his chance as well, and picked up an injury, so that opened the door for Rashy. It was obviously that pace that first alerted us but I know now, as I’ve been playing with him for so long, that he’s got everything. He is a special talent.

I think he almost took it all in his stride. You could tell he was a confident kid. You need to be at this club, I think, and to be a no.9 as well. You could tell he wasn’t fazed, coming up to the first team and being really thrown in, as you could see he was a special talent. The manager at the time knew that and put him straight in.
Video
Marcus Rashford celebrating a goal with Juan Mata.
Watch Rashford score twice on his Premier League debut against Arsenal in 2016.

Although Rashford's swift breakthrough onto the senior stage happened so quickly, he was able to integrate due to his existing relationship with others who had taken the same path into the side.

“He didn’t play much for the Reserves as he skipped that stage,” added Smalling. “But we saw a lot of the youth-team games because of the fact they’re on MUTV. Quite often, when we’re training inside, and getting stretched, it will be on the screen so we do keep up to date with the youth-team games.

At that time, we had quite a few young players. Not as young as Rashy but a lot of them knew him already and that helps coming into the environment so it’s not totally daunting getting to know 25 players. The fact a lot of other players had come through the Academy as well definitely helped him.

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