Man United's Rashford is the heir as Rooney's powers wane
Once again, teen striker shows he can fill skipper's boots
MAN UNITED 1
(Marcus Rashford 32)
ASTON VILLA 0
Watching Marcus Rashford must feel like an out-of-body experience for Wayne Rooney.
Not so long ago, he was the one playing the role of the virile 18-year-old that would tear apart opposing defences in a Manchester United shirt, announcing his arrival on the grandest stages with an impressive glut of goals.
How times have changed for the now 30-year-old.
These days it is Rashford who is living the "Boy's Own" dream; he has become English football's latest, must-see striker extraordinaire, after another match-winning performance in a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in the English Premier League yesterday.
Conversely, Rooney has found himself downgraded to the footballing equivalent of a "B" movie; operating largely on the periphery.
The United and England captain's understudy has succeeded where Rooney has so often failed this season; bailing out Louis van Gaal each time the vultures circled above his under-fire manager.
What should have been a joyous occasion for Rooney, returning to action following two months on the sidelines, ended as a reminder of his diminishing powers.
Even his role in condemning Villa to the Championship, providing an impressive cross-field ball for Antonio Valencia in the build-up to Rashford's goal, did little to steal the focus from the new kid on the Old Trafford block.
It was always a case of when, rather than if, Rooney's heir apparent would emerge from the shadows.
Through a combination of financial largesse and desperation, van Gaal has spent most of this season paving the way for that changing of the guard.
Many anticipated last summer's expensive purchase of teenager Anthony Martial would have hastened the transition.
Not many envisaged that the answer would come later in a teenager from Wythenshawe.
Van Gaal has presided over United's lowest-scoring tally in their Premier League history, only reaching the 40-goal milestone after 33 games of the season played.
But Rashford's penchant for rippling nets has made light of that relative lack of potency.
Villa were merely the latest victims as he recorded a seventh goal in 12 appearances.
ON THE RISE
At a time when none of his teammates have hit the target more than three times during that period, Rashford's current ascent be considered more than a mere purple patch.
Far more than goals have defined his rise to prominence. Pace and movement reminiscent of Rooney in his 2004 pomp have been key, creating space in behind the visitors' back line to take aim.
An admirable belief in traditional footballing values has also won him further plaudits.
Rashford remains a rare breed in attempting to stay on his feet in situations where taking a tumble in the penalty area is often considered the best course of action.
But for a lack of refinement, he would have punished Villa further.
It seemed almost like an act of humanity given how he had already condemned them to their fate.
Previously a pillar of English football, as one of the league's founder clubs with 28 consecutive top-flight seasons, Villa's ultimate demise, confirmed at Old Trafford, should offer overdue closure to the club's fiercely loyal yet long-suffering fan base.
They have gone from knocking on the door of Champions League qualification to slipping into the Championship, English football's second tier, in the space of six years.
Their eventual downfall should even come as a relief - the writing has been on the wall for some time.
How both they and Rooney must yearn for a return to happier times.
YESTERDAY'S OTHER RESULTS
- Norwich 0 Sunderland 3
- Newcastle 3 Swansea 0
- Everton 1 Southampton 1
- West Brom 0 Watford 1
BY THE NUMBERS
Since his debut for Manchester United, Marcus Rashford has scored seven goals in 12 appearances. No other Man United player has more than three goals during this period.