Why Rashford deserves goals for Christmas: Neil Humphreys
Manchester United striker is an antidote to a miserable year
Marcus Rashford started the year with an injury. He'll finish it with a different injury. Somewhere between the two, he became the hero that 2020 needed.
Not just the usual, run-of-the-mill football hero - the kind that knocks in a hat-trick in the Champions League (though he did that, too, against RB Leipzig) - but a generation-changing icon.
Sporting heroes always inspire. But the greatest heroes humble us. This year, Rashford did both.
If karma still exists in this annus horribilis, then the striker must knock in the winner against Everton tomorrow morning (Singapore time), send Manchester United into the League Cup semi-final and ensure the merriest of Christmases.
But this isn't really about the Red Devils, the League Cup or even Rashford, to a degree. It's about something as simple and trite as hope and a naive belief that the good guys still get to win occasionally.
This was the year when the good guys almost lost. A relentless virus reinforced the rich-poor divide, isolating and endangering the most vulnerable like a twisted, dystopian game.
For the most part, the wealthy were fine, secreted away in their sanitised, spacious bubbles. Rashford was very much part of that elite.
The footballer was among the least threatened by Covid-19. He was secure, safe and still being paid an obscene wage. All he needed to do was hibernate and get lost for a bit.
But he found his voice instead. He spoke for those who couldn't. The rich man spoke for the hungry boy that once had nothing.
WAR ON POVERTY
Rashford went to war on poverty, rather than poor people - a novel concept in recent years - potentially risking the bland persona that modern footballers carefully cultivate as they placate all sides and appease advertisers.
In January, he put his back out in United's FA Cup win against Wolves. While injured, he read that a Manchester-based scheme for free school meals was at risk.
As a beneficiary of free school meals, the son of a single mother made a phone call and said what should've been obvious to anyone with a conscience.
This cannot happen.
He went public, took his campaign across the country and raised millions to feed thousands. Rashford forced the British government to make two policy U-turns and commit to feeding the poorest children through the school holidays and beyond.
He has since announced a partnership with a publisher to promote reading and literacy among the disadvantaged, as there were no books in his impoverished childhood home.
When he was invited to a local school to judge a poetry competition among deaf students, Rashford didn't just turn up. He learned basic sign language to allow him to communicate with the young poets.
And all this in a year that kicked off with a back injury and ended with him struggling to complete games with a stubborn shoulder knock.
Honestly, this year needed Rashford's altruism more than it needed his goals - though he's already chipped in with 12 in 21 club appearances this season. Without perhaps knowing it, he's been a vital counter-balancing act.
When there were Covidiots, there was usually a Rashford initiative to balance the scales for a bit. When there were sinister statistics, there was another uplifting Rashford headline to applaud.
And within the game itself, for every trivial whinge about VAR lines and armpits, or greedy midfielders and grubby agents, there was always Rashford, the straightest of shooters, in every sense.
His recent prize at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards for his work in tackling child poverty is no less than he deserves.
At 23, he already has a profound understanding of what he's playing for.
There were times he never had any as a kid. He wants to ensure that every child has at least a loaf on the family table each day, applying an almost biblical simplicity to his ambitions.
If this year can be remembered for something other than a virus, then it should be the collective sacrifice that was necessary to protect those who were vulnerable to something beyond their control.
In this regard, Rashford really was the best among us.