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
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
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
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
Even England manager Roy Hodgson could not resist the
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
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
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
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