INTERVIEW: Marcus Rashford’s new celebration is all about shutting out the noise. The red-hot Manchester United forward has now found his happy space and insists the game is 95 PER CENT mentality
- It’s been seven years since Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene at Man United
- He is set to walk out at Wembley for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final vs Newcastle
- The England star will be almost unrecognisable from the one there in July 2021
It is seven years ago on Saturday since Marcus Rashford exploded on to the scene as a teenager at Old Trafford with a two-goal debut against the Danes of FC Midtjylland.
So much has happened in Rashford’s life since the night of February 25, 2016. Plenty of highs in his football career. Some painful lows too. The charity work fighting child food poverty. The MBE.
Now 25, the softly spoken Mancunian sits with a hood pulled up over his head and reflects on the most tumultuous period of all.
Assuming he shakes off a knock to his left ankle, the Marcus Rashford who walks out at Wembley for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Newcastle will be almost unrecognisable from the one last seen there in July 2021.
He came on as a substitute at the end of the European Championship final against Italy and was one of three England players to miss in a penalty shootout.
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford (pictured, left) is in the form of his life right now
It is almost exactly seven years to the day since he broke through with two goals vs Midtjylland
The 25-year-old hopes to win the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley on Sunday
Physically, Rashford was hurting. He needed surgery for a nagging muscle tear in his left shoulder and did not play again for more than three months.
Mentally, he was no better. He sought help from a sports psychologist but his confidence and form deserted him during the most difficult season of his career.
‘I don’t think anyone outside the club knows how long I was dealing with those issues,’ says Rashford, who was also out for a long period in 2020 with small fractures in his back.
‘It wasn’t just one season. It was a period of time where every day was tough, and you have to just sacrifice. I’ve always been one to try to be out on the pitch as much as I possibly can. That’s where I get the happiness. If I’m out injured, I’m not happy.
‘So I would rather try to deal with the pain as long as I can perform and still help the team. At times, you have to pull yourself out and that’s what happened with the shoulder situation last season.
‘It was the right time to get it fixed. And then the season happened. I can’t get it back. But one thing I can do is just learn from it and try to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’
Rashford made up for missing pre-season that year by putting in extra work in Oregon last summer. He has discovered the power of the mind, hence the goal celebration in which he points an index finger to his temple.
‘Football is probably 95 per cent to do with your mentality,’ he says. ‘For me, that’s everything. It gives you the baseline to perform. There are a lot of players who have ability, but what sets them apart is mentality.
Rashford has opened up on his now trademark celebration, pointing his finger to his head
The Red Devils academy graduate insists football is 95 per cent related to a player’s mentality
‘I’ve been on both sides of it. I understand the strength of it and the value of it. I’m just concentrating more on keeping myself in that head space.’
It has helped Rashford become one of the hottest strikers in Europe this season, with 27 goals for club and country and 16 in 18 games since returning from the World Cup.
Erik ten Hag, in his first season as United manager, deserves his share of the credit for the unrelenting faith he has shown in Rashford. The lost soul of a year ago has morphed into a machine.
‘I’m just in the areas to score goals more consistently,’ says Rashford. ‘The staff are talking to you about that one chance, giving me constant reminders to keep going. If the ball doesn’t come, don’t worry, believe it’s going to come, because it’s only going to come one time. As a forward, that’s sometimes the game.’
Discipline, too, has been crucial to the Ten Hag revolution. When Rashford overslept at the team hotel and was late for a meeting before the game at Wolves on New Year’s Eve, the manager wasn’t afraid to bench his in-form striker.
Has the hard-line approach helped? ‘One hundred per cent,’ says Rashford, who responded by coming on to score the only goal at Molineux.
‘I never made a thing out of it because, if I was a coach, I’d have done the same. If you don’t have standards in the training ground, how do you expect to go out on the pitch and win consistently? It’s impossible.
‘If you’re going to allow each other to slip or have an off-day and no one says anything about it, which is a position that we’ve been in at times, it’s difficult to get out of it because it becomes normal.
He has scored more goals than any player in Europe’s top five leagues since the World Cup
‘So there are constant reminders about discipline. For me, it was not starting a game. We spoke about it afterwards briefly but it’s his decision and you have to respect it.’
Ten Hag has got United challenging on four fronts after a rousing win over Barcelona on Thursday night. The Dutchman hopes to deliver the club’s first trophy since 2017, when lifting the Carabao Cup under Jose Mourinho was the prelude to winning the Europa League as well.
Rashford hopes a similar pattern will emerge now. ‘That’s the aim,’ he says. ‘It gives you that winning feeling and the belief you can go on and win trophies.
‘When we played our first game in the Carabao Cup (this season), we didn’t want to get to the final and lose. When you don’t win, it’s all for nothing. So we want the performances so far to count for something.
‘The only way to do that is to go on and win it.’
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