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Rashford's rise hit new heights with Euro call-up

01 June 2016, 21:31

London - When Anthony Martial limped forlornly towards the Old Trafford tunnel it set Marcus Rashford off on a meteoric rise from unknown teenager to the rising star of England's Euro 2016 challenge in less than 100 days.

Martial suffered a hamstring injury in the warm-up before Manchester United's Europa League tie against FC Midtjylland in February. Rashford was the unexpected beneficiary as Louis van Gaal handed the 18-year-old his professional debut.

Rashford had been an unused substitute for two Premier League matches in November, but even the most ardent United fan could be excused for knowing little about the coltish striker when he trotted onto the pitch that evening.

Such was Rashford's lowly status in the United pecking order that, but for injuries to Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and Will Keane, he would not even have been on the bench.

He also came into a United team desperately short of confidence as pressure mounted on van Gaal after a poor run of results.

Yet, rather than be overawed by his battlefield promotion, Rashford appeared to the manor born as he put into practice the advice of one of his youth coaches, who had urged him to play less like Cristiano Ronaldo and more like Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Displaying blistering pace, clever movement and a maturity beyond his tender years, Rashford's predatory instincts went on full display. He struck twice in 12 minutes to inspire United's 5-1 victory, prompting van Gaal to describe his performance as "unbelievable".

If Rashford's debut was a shock to van Gaal, it was even harder to take in for the unassuming teenager who just a few years earlier awoke every morning to a bedroom adorned with pictures of his United heroes.

Born in the modest Manchester suburb of Wythenshawe on Halloween in 1997, Rashford dreamt of pulling United's famous red shirt from the moment he could kick a ball.

Also read: Rashford named in England Euro 2016 squad

- Fairytale -

Rashford joined local youth club Fletcher Moss Rangers, where Wes Brown and Danny Welbeck, who both had spells with United, began to learn their trade.

As his talent quickly emerged, Rashford was courted by United and Manchester City, opting for Old Trafford because of the youth academy's emphasis on skill development.

Even the scouts who spotted his potential could not have predicted Rashford would break a record previously held by the legendary George Best.

The brace against Midtjylland made him United's youngest ever scorer in European competition, but it was no flash in the pan.

On his Premier League debut against Arsenal three days later, Rashford scored with his first shot, then netted again in the 3-2 victory.

The fairytale had another chapter in March when Rashford, who still lives with his mother Mel, bagged the winner at Manchester City, making him the youngest scorer in a Manchester derby in the Premier League era.

By the time Rashford walked off the Wembley pitch with an FA Cup winners medal around his neck after United's victory over Crystal Palace last month, he was already entrenched as one of his club's most important players.

Even England manager Roy Hodgson could not resist the prodigy's appeal.

After initially playing down talk of selecting Rashford, Hodgson responded to his haul of eight goals in his first 18 United appearances by naming him in his provisional squad for the Euros.

With time running out before the tournament, Rashford was under pressure to make the most of his maiden appearance against Australia last Friday.

Once again he was completely unfazed and it took less than three minutes for Rashford to become the youngest player to score on his England debut with a cool volley that shattered Tommy Lawton's 77-year old record.

United this week handed Rashford an improved 25,000 ($36,000) per week contract tying him to the club until 2020 and that was followed on Tuesday by his inclusion in England's final 23-man squad for the Euros -- just 96 days after he stepped out of the shadows as Martial's replacement.

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