HomeTop StoriesRashford can complete redemption arc by ending Man United trophy drought

Rashford can complete redemption arc by ending Man United trophy drought

Marcus Rashford‘s last kick at Wembley Stadium was a missed penalty playing for England against Italy in the final of the European Championship in July 2021. He returns this weekend with the chance to help Manchester United win their first piece of silverware in nearly six years.

Lifting the Carabao Cup would be tangible evidence of United’s progress under manager Erik ten Hag, but also an opportunity for Rashford to continue his own resurgence. In the 18 months since his penalty clipped the outside of Gianluigi Donnarumma‘s right post, the striker endured his worst period as a professional and was dropped by England.

On Sunday, however, he will line up against Newcastle United at the national stadium (10:30 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) in the form of his life and earning (deserved) comparisons with some of the best players in the world. He has bigger ambitions than the Carabao Cup but, just as for Ten Hag’s United, it will be more proof that things, finally, are on the up.

“Winning trophies gives you that winning feeling and the belief you can go on and win more trophies,” Rashford told ESPN during an interview at United’s Carrington training base. “I think now at the minute we have it and it’s a good position to be in as a player because you feel like your aims and objectives are reachable.”

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Just 12 months ago, that might have seemed beyond him.

A year ago this weekend, Rashford was left on the bench as United, tanking under interim coach Ralf Rangnick, were held to a 0-0 draw by Watford, who would be relegated soon afterwards. In total last season, Rashford scored five goals, and the 16 minutes he played against Watford was one of 15 appearances between January and April during which he didn’t find the net once.

It could not be more different now. In the 18 matches he’s played since returning from the World Cup, he’s scored 16 times. He’s on 24 for the season, already two more than he’s managed in a single campaign since making his debut as a relatively unknown teenager in February 2016.

In his seven years as a first-team regular, Rashford, now 25, has collected winners’ medals in the FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League but there is a sense around Manchester that now, with Ten Hag in charge and Rashford delivering on all that potential, bigger prizes in the Premier League and Champions League are not that far away.

“We definitely could have achieved more, but I would have given the same answer if we had won a load of trophies,” Rashford said. “I feel every opportunity to step out onto the pitch is an opportunity to win and at this club you don’t settle for anything less. When we lose games or draw games, it’s not good enough. A draw feels like a loss anyway. Every time we’re on the pitch, you’re trying to win.

“I’ve not really had a period to stop and look back on the last seven years because it’s very much nonstop. We’re playing games all the time, so the most important game is always the next game, it’s not a game six years ago or seven years ago. It’s about the next one and keeping the momentum going.

“I can’t get [last season] back, but one thing I can do is just learn from it and try and do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Sunday’s showpiece against Newcastle will be Rashford’s sixth final for United — so long as he’s declared fit after suffering an ankle knock against Barcelona — after the 2016 FA Cup final under Louis van Gaal, the 2017 EFL Cup final, the 2017 Europa League final and the 2018 FA Cup final under Jose Mourinho and the 2021 Europa League final under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Rashford didn’t score in any of them, but then, he never arrived for one in this kind of form.

Asked about the turnaround, he’s quick to thank Ten Hag and his staff, and particularly former South Africa international striker Benni McCarthy. Technical aspects of his game like his heading have improved but, according to Rashford, the biggest change has been in his mind.

“Football is probably 95% to do with your mentality,” he said. “For me, that’s everything, that gives you the baseline to go and perform. Without that side, you’re just playing off ability. There are a lot of players that have ability, that’s why they play at the top level, but what sets them apart is the mentality. I’ve been on both sides of it.

“I understand the strength of it and the value of it. I’m just concentrating a lot more on keeping myself in that headspace and I think it’s needed in order to go and win games and trophies.”

The road back to this point has been tough.

He didn’t play a game completely injury-free for the best part of two years between 2019 and 2021. He played through the pain to make himself available for England at Euro 2020, delayed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost immediately after his missed penalty in the final underwent surgery to fix a torn muscle in his left shoulder.

Dropped by England for the Nations League games this past summer, he spent time training at Nike’s training base in Oregon, waking at 5 o’clock each morning to train in an attempt to make a good first impression on Ten Hag.

“I don’t think anyone — apart from the people at the club — they don’t know how long I was dealing with those issues and they probably won’t know until I say,” added Rashford. “But it wasn’t just one season, it was a period of time where every day was tough and you have to just sacrifice, and I’ve always been one to try and be out on the pitch as much as I possibly can, and for me, that’s where I get the happiness.

“If I’m out injured, I’m not happy, I’m dealing with the pain and I’m not happy. So I would rather try to deal with the pain as long as I can perform and still help the team, I’d always choose to do that.”

Finally injury-free and scoring regularly, this season still hasn’t been completely without issue. In December, Rashford was dropped by Ten Hag for a game at Wolverhampton Wanderers after he overslept and missed a team meeting.

Recalling the incident, he admitted, “If I was a coach, I’d have done the same,” but it was typical of the new and improved Rashford that when he finally came off the naughty step and was introduced as a half-time substitute, he ended up scoring the winner.

It was a quick comeback at Molineux in Rashford’s comeback season. The next chapter of his redemption story will be played out at Wembley on Sunday.

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