Born in Manchester and raised within United’s academy, Marcus Rashford has been moulded as both player and person by a club that he will this weekend help celebrate a remarkable milestone.
Sunday’s Premier League encounter with Everton will be the 4,000th successive match in which Manchester United have included at least one homegrown player within their matchday squad.
“Whether you leave the club, or you stay here forever, that feeling never leaves you, your life – people say that once you play for Man United you’re always a red and for me that’s true,” says Rashford, one of the most famous recent graduates.
The Second Division match at Fulham on October 30, 1937 started a remarkable run that has survived 82 years of change and shaped the identity of a club where promoting youth is obligation rather than a bonus.
“I think the academy holds a huge place in United’s history” academy graduate Rashford told the PA news agency. “The way that the academy breeds players is no shock to me at all.
“It’s like they mould you into a Man United person and a Man United player – but the process begins before you can even remember.
“There are players who have been here since five or six years old. Like, for me in that moment, I was just having fun until I was like 12, 11.
“I was just enjoying myself. You don’t realise how good you can be or the potential that you have.
“It’s more that you’re having a kick about with some kids that you’ve grew to like and you become friends through football.
“That’s how it all started off but looking back on it the stuff we used to do in training, that’s when the process all started in becoming a Man United player.
“I always say to myself, if you even fall short going through that process of being a Man United player, you’ll play Premier League football or in a top division, top league.”
Rashford’s view is backed up by a recent study by the PA news agency, which found that United graduates had more Premier League minutes than any other club.
The study also showed that United also provided the most top-flight game-time to homegrown players, including the like of Scott McTominay, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and the in-form 22-year-old forward.
Such focus and opportunities helped sway a young Rashford to join United amid interest that is understood to have come from Manchester City and Liverpool, as well the likes of Everton, Newcastle, Crewe and Accrington.
“I remember at first, before I came to United, there was like loads of different clubs,” the World Cup semi-finalist said.
“Obviously my mum didn’t really know much about football, obviously we supported Man United.
“It was my brothers, really, who managed to categorise good academies from bad academies and then the final decision just came down to which club do you love and want to play for?
“Then once I went to United, it was perfect. It was everything that you wish for as a kid.”
From giving exciting up-and-coming youngsters glimpses of the first-team stars to broadening their horizons against challenging opponents, Rashford could hardly speak higher about the set-up, coaches and support system.
While quick to express gratitude to coaches like Paul McGuinness, Colin Little and Warren Joyce, the 22-year-old concedes there are far too many people to thank within a structure that focuses on the person behind the player.
“They want you to be a good person and to set you up for life,” Rashford said. “That can be in football, but it could also be other things.
“There are some players I played with who went to university and have really good jobs now.
“The picture they had at the beginning might not have happened, but they have a really good job and they are happy with what they are doing.”
Rashford is among those fortunate enough to become a first-team star at United.
Having grown up looking up to older academy players like Pogba, Lingard and Josh King, he is now among the stars that youngsters idolise – a status underlined by his image on the corridors of United’s academy building along with the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, David Beckham and Paul Scholes.
“At first it was a bit overwhelming but when you look at it, it is just like the process of development,” Rashford said.
“The players I looked up to are obviously older now. The younger players now look up to us. The transition happens so fast.
“When I understood that, my perception of that picture over there changed a little bit. It became a bit more normal and I understood what that does for the kids.
“When I was younger and you see people like Beckham and Scholes on the walls, it gives you that determination every time you went to training and you seen them on the way out, you’d want to reach those heights.
“You know they are on the other side of the building, they are training every day and working hard. Then would go and watch them on a weekend.
“You were so far away from there, but you were so close at the same time.”
It is a system that continues to bear fruit at United, with 12 academy graduates in the current first-team squad.
In 2019 alone, 10 players having been handed their first-team debut and it is hard to imagine this unparalleled 4,000 match run ending anytime soon.
“We speak about following in footsteps, that’s where it all comes from,” Rashford said.
“It’s happening now where the ones who have just come into the first team – me, Scotty – are an example to some of the academy lads who are coming in now.
“It will be the same in three years’ time when it’s the next lot of kids.
“While that happens, I don’t see United breeding players slowing down.”