How Marcus is inspiring the next generation of Reds
So much attention is paid to Marcus Rashford’s Manchester United career and what he can achieve in the future, but very little is said about the incredible impact he has had off the pitch.
On the international front, with England, he has also already amassed 29 caps, scored six goals and featured in two major tournaments: the 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup.
Today is his 21st birthday and many of his contemporaries from recent United history – Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Ruud van Nistelrooy – could not boast such feats at this stage of their now iconic careers.
That must be remembered when the next unnecessary discussion about his development crops up.
Yet there is another side to Marcus Rashford’s story which often goes without appropriate attention.
Marcus used to attend those sessions when he was growing up, with a dream to become a professional footballer for his beloved United. Although the initiative is not designed to develop young players for the club, his success has undoubtedly inspired the next generation of participants.
Amy was among the girls taking part when I attended a Street Reds session earlier this month and, as a pupil of the nearby Button Lane Primary School, which proudly counts Rashford among its graduates, she has a very personal connection to the homegrown hero.
“It makes me feel proud that he went to the same school and Street Reds project,”Amy told me after training.
“He was on this pitch and I play on this pitch too. It makes me feel special.”
I was completely wrong and their responses underlined the excellent work of the Foundation coaches, who educate the children on good behaviour as well as the practices of playing football.
“I like when he is running down the line and, if he loses the ball, then he doesn’t give up,”said Amy.
“He goes back to tries to win it back again. That is the thing that I really like about him. The other thing I like about Rashford is that he is resilient. He goes at it all the time. He doesn’t give up, ever!”
“I can learn from his sportsmanship, the way he plays, how kind he is, how funny he is and that he never gives up.”
The link between Rashford and a Street Reds participant like Josh was easy to make – the Wythenshawe youngster was skilled on the ball, oozing confidence and even looked like Marcus.
His dream was clear, as he told me:
“I am just going to imagine when I am older and being on that pitch at Old Trafford where Marcus Rashford used to be, when he was scoring goals, and there is a picture of me in the news with the words saying ‘Marcus junior - the new Marcus Rashford is here!’”
Josh may yet make it into the first team at United and I hope to read that headline one day in the future, but the reality is that only a very small minority achieve that ambition. We all wanted it as kids but for 99 per cent of us, including me, it doesn’t work out and alternative routes are found.
I was obsessed with United and had a forensic knowledge of the club as a child, but a lack of talent on the pitch (and a love for crisps) quickly put paid to my hope of representing the Reds.
It was saturated fats and not raw talent that ran through my veins, so in my teens I turned to the high octane sport of table tennis - ideal for a chubby child with limited cardiovascular fitness. I played regularly and often in the sports hall of Wythenshawe's Manchester Health Academy, coincidentally around the same time when Marcus attended the Street Reds project outside.
Sports journalism later became my new goal to aggressively pursue and now, as a United employee, I can tell you that the departments are littered with fans who did not have what it took to play for that beloved first team. So they chose employment at Old Trafford instead.
For me, this is exactly why the Street Reds projects and role models like Marcus are so important.
The young supporters I met in Wythenshawe did not talk about the rewards that Rashford enjoys from playing professional football, which are so often unfairly highlighted in the media.
Instead, they all spoke with wide eyes about their idol’s honesty on the pitch, his continued work ethic and consistent acts of sportsmanship; traits which can guide them to success in any walk of life.
The message there was clear: behave like Marcus Rashford and good things will happen, whether that is in football, education, industry or whichever route their lives decide to follow.
That impact cannot be underestimated and, for that, our no.10 deserves tremendous praise.
Happy birthday, Marcus Rashford.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.