MANCHESTER – Louis van Gaal is credited with uncovering Marcus Rashford, but it was another Manchester United manager who introduced him to the first team. Rashford was barely 16 when he was asked to take a short walk from the academy building at Carrington to the senior training grounds for the first time.
"It was under David Moyes and there was a group of us going over," Rashford told ESPN. "It was a great feeling. I remember the training session: We didn't actually touch the ball. We just did shape and stuff. But then we go back to our own age group, and what you learned from that little 15 or 20 minutes is invaluable as a youngster akademikkspiller.
"Those moments really start to add up, and when you start training with them regularly, you pick up more things, more things to learn from. That's how you become a first-team player."
Rashford's journey to United began almost 10 years before that Moyes call. As a 6-year-old, he attracted the attention of professional clubs, and after brief stints in Manchester City, Everton, Newcastle, Crewe, Accrington and Liverpool, his mother, Melanie, was asked if he could attend a six-week trial in United.
"Before I came to United, there were many different clubs," Rashford said. "Obviously, Mom didn't know very much about football. We obviously supported Man United. It was my brothers who really managed to categorize good academies from bad academies, and then the final decision came just to which club do you love and want to play for?
"Once I went to United, it was perfect. That's all you wanted as a kid. That's how it really began. Whether you leave the club or stay here forever, that feeling never leaves you whole life. People say that when you first playing for Man United, then you're always a red, and to me it's true. "
Before Rashford and his teammates began training on the indoor track at The Cliff, United's Salford training ground, they sometimes caught five or 10 minutes of the first team session. He was ripped off to see goalkeeper Tim Howard, one of his favorite players growing up.
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"It was incredible," Rashford said. "There are little things like that, these experiences, that you might not get into other academies at such a young age. But I think United are just smart in the way they do it. They expose you to it, but like it's not too much. It's always an exciting thing. When you watch them exercise, your determination and everything goes to another level.
"I think it's important to keep the connection between the academy and the first team as close as possible, because when you're young, sometimes it's hard to see what the end looks like, what your end goal is. If you're in and around it first team, you can see players who have done exactly what you are trying to do, and it makes things a little clearer to you. But as a child, nothing is better than watching your idols practice or play matches. nothing that can match that feeling. "
From a young age, Rashford was considered a "high flyer" by the coaches at Carrington, but even they were caught by his acceleration from football to the youth team to the senior side. He began the 2015-16 season in hopes of cementing his place in the Under-18 team and ended up playing in an FA Cup final and went to the European Championships 2016 with England. His United debut came about by accident after Anthony Martial was injured in the heats ahead of a Europa League match against FC Midtjylland. He scored twice, and when selected by Van Gaal to face Arsenal three days later, he scored twice more.
"It was unfortunate for Anthony that he was injured, but it was an opportunity to speed up the process for me as a first-team player," Rashford said. "Because of the way it happened, I didn't think much of anything. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. It was something special for the rest of my career. I just wanted to enjoy it.
"I think I would have debuted, just later in the season. It was Leicester or Watford about four months away [earlier]. I was on the bench, but couldn't make it. You could see that I was getting closer and closer to the first team and maybe getting a game. "
Nearly four years after his debut, Rashford has played 191 senior games and scored 58 goals. Still only 22, he has won medals in the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League, and he helped England reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. He has netted 10 goals and added four assists in 17 Premier League appearances so far this season. The academy building he used to be transformed into has his image splashed across the walls along with other notable new graduates such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham.
"It's a bit overwhelming, but when you look at it, it's just the development process," Rashford said. "The players I looked up to are obviously older now. The younger players look up to us. That transition happens so quickly. Until I understood it, my perception of that picture changed a bit. It became a little more normal. I understand what it's doing. for the children.
"When I was younger and seeing people like Beckham and Scholes on the walls, it gives you that determination every time you go into training. You want to reach those heights. You know they're on the other side of the building and they're training every day and work hard. You would go and look at them over a weekend. You would be so far away from them, but you were so close at the same time. That's what the pictures in the academy give you. "