Rashford: The FA Youth Cup and me
Marcus Rashford first played in the FA Youth Cup at 16. Here, he explains how it was huge for his development...
We’ve got the FA Youth Cup coming up – what are your memories of playing in it as a youngster? The last time I played in it I didn’t have good memories, I think it was the fourth round and they beat us 5-1 at home. Chelsea are a top youth team and they’ve always had top players especially in the last five or six years. No matter what the result is that tournament is the closest thing you get to real football [when you’re younger] and you can’t take that experience for granted. If I could give the players one piece of advice going into the game it’s just to feel the game and enjoy the game, but understand the circumstances because they’re very similar to football [at the top level] now. It’s always exciting when the tournament starts and I’ve been speaking to a few of the lads about it and they’re all looking forward to it. What would you say about the grounding it gave you before you got into the first team and what are the key learnings you took from playing in it? There were loads of key things especially when I played in it for the first time. It was against Leicester [in January 2014] when I was 16. It was one of my first starts for the U18s and when I was on the bench leading up to that game for the U18s that’s when I was learning quite a lot off the other more experienced players who were in the side. There is a difference from playing in the league games at U18s level to the Youth Cup matches; when it’s the Youth Cup you can see the preparation changes and everyone raises their game naturally by 10%. The following season (2014/15) you played in the wins over Bury and Hull City. We lost out to Spurs but you scored a superb 25-yard free-kick in that game. For you personally, grabbing your first goal at that level must have been pleasing? I scored in the first half and that relaxed me because a lot of the time I was coming on, maybe playing with my own age group and then going over to the [Youth Cup] age group so you kind of freestyle a bit in that sense between the different age groups, but the club and the coaches handle that situation very well. We had a few players that were doing the same and it was difficult because we didn’t have a lot of players at U16s level so sometimes you’d play in both games – you’d play for the 16s and then be one of the names on the bench for the 18s. But it was always a really positive experience and it was a big part of my development working with [former U18s manager] Paul McGuinness and the boys, and I wouldn’t change that time for anything. In 2015/16 you netted an extra-time penalty against QPR to secure a 2-1 win for us… was that a good test of nerves at a young age? I felt at that time like one of the more experienced players in the team… we had a good mix. We had about three or four lads you had played in it three times and had an understanding of the tournament and also some who were experiencing it for the first time. So it was a good mix. I felt comfortable taking the penalty and the team was comfortable in me taking it so it worked out well. It’s always been an important competition for the club and it’s something the young players are taught about growing up aren’t they given our great history in it… Yes, that’s the good thing about it because you’re following in the footsteps [of great players]. Jesse [Lingard] for example is five years older than me but we can sit and talk about the Youth Cup for hours. You go through the same thing and what you get out of it might be different to other players, but you have to try to get the most out of it that you can How impressed have you been with the youth team this season? The U18s are doing well and the U19s are unbeaten in the UEFA Youth League and have qualified for the next round with a game to spare… Yes especially in the UEFA Youth League, it’s been great to see. It’s exciting to watch them develop. I’ve seen some of the lads in the team play since I was a kid and since they were kids and to see them making the step up is amazing. They have to keep pushing and I think they will come to understand what’s in sight for them and what they can achieve if they make it to the top. I’d just say to them keep working hard and the main thing is to enjoy your football. As we said we’ll face Chelsea this year – difficult opponents and the current holders, but the players will take great confidence from how well they’ve been doing at U18 and U19 level won’t they? 100%, and they need to believe in themselves. Chelsea are a good team, they’ve won a lot in the last few years and that’s what gives them that self-confidence and self-belief. But the players here are as good as the Chelsea players, there’s no doubt about that. So going into the game I’d keep saying that to myself and give yourself that belief that you can beat them. When we played them that’s what we lacked, everyone was talking about this Chelsea team and I think we lacked that self-belief that we could beat them. So the players need to believe. Those who have trained with the first team, how impressive have they been among the seniors? They’ve done well. For them I’m sure it’s always the highlight of their day [when it happens]. Having the opportunity to train with us is priceless for me. What you learn when you go up to the first team is 10 times more than what you’d learn playing for the U16s and U18s. It’s really good for the players and it can only help with their development.