Football

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Man of the Moment: Buxton

Forward's on-field displays have been as stellar as his charity work in the UK

It's hard to know whether defenders or politicians currently fear Marcus Rashford more.

The Manchester United striker has become a shining example on and off the pitch, earning acclaim for his main stock in trade as much as tackling social inequality.

A quickfire hat-trick in the Old Trafford club's 5-0 demolition of RB Leipzig yesterday morning (Singapore time) underlined why Rashford is the Man of the Moment.

He is making short work of the Red Devils' supposed Champions League group of death as easily as he holds a floundering UK government to account in the Covid-19 era.

Winning hearts and minds comes naturally to the Wythenshawe-born marksman. So, too, does excelling at the pinnacle of club football by successfully putting last season's finalists and semi-finalists respectively to the sword in the space of eight days.

Paris Saint-Germain's well-heeled side could not handle him popping up in the 87th minute to seal a 2-1 win last week.

Similarly, Bundesliga leaders Leipzig failed to stop him from scoring thrice in 18 minutes after he came on in the 63rd minute of their Group H encounter.

But Rashford has needed to be patient for his moment to again shine in Europe's elite club competition on account of United's inconsistent attempts to qualify for it routinely.

The 20-time English champions have been flitting between the Europa League and the Champions League since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

Even the most recent time in which they had qualified for the Champions League in back-to-back seasons was on a technicality, after their Europa League triumph in 2017 provided a backdoor entry.

Rashford's ambivalence towards the tournament that first showcased his talent to the wider world reflects the general mood about it within Old Trafford.

Playing in a second-rate competition rather than on the biggest stage saw him cut a frustrated figure whenever United were labouring in various continental backwaters.

Now that they are again back at the top table, Rashford is making up for lost time and joining some of United's great and good as he becomes only the second player in their history to score a hat-trick as a substitute, since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fired four goals after coming off the bench in an 8-1 win over Nottingham Forest in 1999.

More than that, though, the Leipzig cameo saw Rashford enter a list of Champions League treble-scoring substitutes previously headlined by Kylian Mbappe.

Still only 21, the French World Cup winner's stock is on a perennial upward trajectory in a career where he has yet to endure a fraction of the competitive hardships his England counterpart has faced in nearly five years in the United frontline.

DETERMINATION

Rashford's determination, however, sets him apart from Mbappe.

He has felt the pain of an enforced spell away from the game's competitive spotlight, while PSG's freewheeling forward knows no different and seemingly wants for nothing in front of goal.

  •  • Manchester United's Marcus Rashford came on with 27 minutes left in 5-0 win over RB Leipzig yesterday

     • Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe came on with 38 mins left in 5-0 win over Club Brugge in 2019

     • Deportivo La Coruna's Walter Pandiani came on with 44 mins left in 4-3 win over PSG in 2001

  • GROUP E

     • Krasnodar 0 Chelsea 4

     • Sevilla 1 Rennes 0

    GROUP F

     • B. Dortmund 2 Zenit St Petersburg 0

     • Club Brugge 1 Lazio 1

    GROUP G

     • Ferencvaros 2 Dynamo Kiev 2

     • Juventus 0 Barcelona 2

    GROUP H

     • Basaksehir 0 Paris Saint-Germain 2

     • Manchester United 5 RB Leipzig 0

That relentless personal drive still accounts for the selflessness that has seen Rashford become a national hero by allowing Anthony Martial to break his duck for the season with a late penalty.

United's homegrown talisman was merely paying it forward, following Romelu Lukaku's lead in delegating spot-kick duties to him to wrap up an improbable win at PSG in 2019.

Call it karma for kindness or simply receiving some overdue recognition, but Rashford is increasingly becoming a player that anyone should underestimate at his own peril.

Football