Thinking about Marcus Rashford’s emergence in 2015-16 is enough to bring goosebumps. Imagine, just for a second, yourself at 17. Now imagine you were, you know, a lot better at football (no offence intended, Giggsy, if you’re reading this, I mean apart from you). If you’re reading this you’re probably a United fan, no need to imagine there.
Now imagine you make your way to an unexpected spot on the sub’s bench after an irredeemably irresponsible manager has left his squad so thin that a couple of injuries has him scrambling around the youth ranks for reinforcements. (Incidentally, Louis van Gaal is getting little to no credit in this story given a. he tried to buy Odion Ighalo in January and b. Rashford was behind Will Keane and almost certainly Marouane Fellaini in the centre-forward stakes).
Then the last striker around gets injured in the warm up and you’re on. The opposition aren’t much better than you’re used to at youth level, and you score two goals, but they’re at the Stretford End and you’ve just scored a brace for United and absolutely everything is brilliant. Then, your fellow strikers do not return from injury quickly enough so you’re in the side again, this time against Arsenal. This time, surely you’ll get found out?
No, this time you score another brace as your incredibly well-timed hotstreak continues.
By the end of the season, you’ll have scored a wonder-goal in the quarter final of the FA Cup, scored the winner in the Manchester derby, making vastly more experienced centre-halves look ridiculous. You’ll have been the best player on the pitch in the FA Cup final, you’ll have made and scored in your international debut and you’ll be on the plane as your country calls you up to get some experience with the national team during Euro 2016. In the end you’ll be criminally underused in that tournament but when you do play you’ll look completely free from nerves, scaring defenders and running with the ball at your feet like it was what you were born to do.
By the end of the season United fans will legitimately be a bit worried that signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the best, most exciting strikers in history, will get in the way of their chances to see you in action.
Marcus Rashford lived this. He scored a brace against Arsenal then went to sixth-form college the next day. He became one of United’s most exciting players pretty much overnight. And watching it was absolutely brilliant.
Maybe, just maybe, he will not go on to have the remarkable, stellar career he looks set for. Maybe those doubters who point to his low shot volume as an indicator that he is performing way above expectation will be proved right. That seems a little unlikely. His scoring hot streak will cool off, but if he can maintain his confident, intelligent link-up play, if he can maintain his ability to pick just the right moment to beat a defender, then he will be a huge asset to United.
It’s easy to be cynical about our club. Much of the mythos and glamour has been exploited by the marketing men, and that’s not going to get any better in the next few years. But Rashford’s emergence was as uncynical as it gets. He grinned his way through the end of the season, clearly delighted by the miracle unfolding around him.
Jose Mourinho has a duty of care over the young man’s future that will be a test case for his suitability as a Manchester United manager. There exists a tranche of United fans who will care about that, and what it represents, as much as any silverware won.
Van Gaal lucked into Rashford, but Rashford made himself a phenomenon and Mourinho is now tasked with the next stage.
But that is a future concern. Whatever happens next, what went before will never be forgotten. That “same in the Europa” answer when he was asked about scoring with his first league shot. That fist-bump with Jesse Lingard at half-time at the Etihad. That goal at West Ham, that fearless running at the FA Cup final, it was just all brilliant. It was by far the best thing about being a United fan last season. It was a reminder of the joy that football can bring.
Marcus Rashford had a remarkable few months. Just imagine what it must have been like to live that experience. And just imagine what it could look like if the future holds what it looks like it should for a player of his remarkable quality.
This article was written for the RoM charity preview.