“We’ve seen a special debut and hopefully his career will kick on from here.”
That was Manchester United legend Paul Scholes’ summary of 18-year-old Marcus Rashford’s two-goal first team breakthrough.
A hamstring injury Anthony Martial suffered in the warm up of a Europa League last 32 second leg clash against FC Midtjylland gifted him the opportunity.
With then-manager Louis van Gaal forced into a last-minute change to his line-up, Rashford was called into action on Thursday 25 February 2016 and has never looked back.
A two-goal Old Trafford haul was also how Rashford celebrated reaching his latest United milestone, as he inspired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to a 4-0 win over Norwich.
That took his tally to 19 goals in his last 23 games for club and country as the forward ended 2019 bang in form and his team-mate Harry Maguire is hoping it will long continue.
“I’m pleased for him this year that he is starting to get the goals he deserves, and hopefully he has not stopped yet,” the defender said post-match.
“He has a few more in the tank from now until the end of the season.
“I can remember one of the first sessions when I went to train with England, he really stood out to me there -- his ability on the ball, his technique. He has everything to go and have a career at the highest level.”
Solskjaer echoed those sentiments, claiming the England international, who has already won 38 caps, has all the attributes needed to go right to the top.
“He’s been absolutely top-class to work with, a great kid with a great attitude,” said the Norwegian.
“He wants to learn, he wants to improve and knows to keep his feet on the ground.
“He will become so much better. But he’s got every little, or not little, to be a top-class player. Attitude, skill, physique.”
The stats certainly back Solskjaer’s assertion that he will become “so much better”, as the Wythenshawe-born forward’s underlying numbers this season point to an upward trajectory.
He is joint-second, three goals behind Jamie Vardy, in the Premier League golden boot race having netted 14 times in 22 matches. And to underline his importance, Rashford is just one of three players, alongside David de Gea and Maguire, to start every league game for United.
Broader than that, no player under the age of 23 has scored more league goals in any of Europe's top five leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1) than the United marksman. He has one more than Chelsea's Tammy Abraham and three more than Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.
No player has hit the woodwork in the Premier League more often than Rashford either, and while that could be seen as wasteful shooting, the fact his shot conversion rate is second only to his breakthrough season it actually indicates how dangerous a finisher he is developing into.
But it’s just not the number of goals he is scoring that shows his improvement, United’s number 10 has become the focal point in attack and a leader on the pitch. Being named captain for the first time, in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against arch rivals Man City, is testament to that.
He has five assists to his name already, just three short of his 2017/18 tally, but most notably his minutes per goal involvement is at by far his best rate. In all competitions he has scored or registered an assist every 98 minutes, exactly 30 minutes less than his previous best.
|Season||Appearances||Goals||Shot Conversion %||Mins per Goal||Assists||Mins per Goal Involvement|
But what will likely please Solskjaer and United fans more than anything, is Rashford’s hunger to continue scoring goals as he outlined his next challenge before the visit of the Canaries.
He told manutd.com: “As a forward, you always find areas you can improve and score more so I think that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on – getting in positions where I’ve been scoring and getting there more often in games, to score more goals to help the team.
“I think that’s the focus from the forward players and it’s been good.
“Just scoring different types of goals, as a forward, is something that is necessary really if you want to be scoring 20-25 goals in a season.”
Much was made of the sudden jump England team-mate Sterling made in terms of goals scored back in 2017/18, as the then 22-year-old became a dependable match-winner for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Having celebrated his 22nd birthday back in October, perhaps we are beginning to see the same levels of maturity from Rashford as he looks to become the Premier League’s leading marksman.
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