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Marcus Rashford is the best of us

At only 22, our Marcus is building a legacy off the pitch. Let’s give him his flowers.

Manchester United Players Deliver Gifts to Patients at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

It would seem that the bewailing of modern footballers wasn’t restricted to television pundits when Matt Hancock, U.K’s Secretary of State for health and social care, was quick to deflect blame on footballers with his distasteful remarks, accusing them of inadequate contribution with regards to the coronavirus crisis.

This isn’t to dispute that footballers are overpaid but if there’s one footballer who cannot be beholden to Hancock’s remarks, it’s Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. The 22-year-old, with the help of Fareshare UK — a charity fighting hunger — has provided 3 million meals to vulnerable people across the U.K, and posted a tweet on Friday to celebrate the achievement. He was quick to remind his followers that the work wasn’t done.

This isn’t all the boy from Wythenshawe has done: he has learned sign language, judged poetry competitions and launched a Christmas campaign last October to help Manchester’s homeless population. This isn’t to suggest that Rashford is the only footballer to have taken up charitable causes, but his careful consideration of the causes he picks up is what makes this such an uplifting story during these strenuous times.

One of the costs that many professional footballers face is divorcing themselves from the public eye but Rashford refuses to do that. He takes his time on Twitter to ask his followers how their day went, what Netflix series they’re binging, if there are efforts that he could assist, and makes young fans’ day with a thoughtful reply or some cheeky banter.

Rashford the footballer draws some parallels as well. He’s at his best when he is allowed to express himself by talking shots and taking his man on with no restraint. However, prior to the league game against Liverpool at Old Trafford, he looked worn to a frazzle. There were concerns being raised. Did he lack the quality to play for Manchester United? What was his best position? Is he prolific? Was he simply at United because he was a product of their academy?

There was a greater backdrop to this. As convivial as his relationship with his followers is at this moment, he was subject to racial epithets and vitriol only two months prior to all the adulation, following a miss from the penalty spot against Crystal Palace in the league. The sort of abuse that has led to so many footballers blocking comments entirely or deactivating their social media accounts. No one should be subject to such bullying, and Rashford showed his character with his response.

Last week, along with teammate Jesse Lingard, he took to social media to provide his support for an autistic boy, Kieran, after a video of him being bullied went viral while holding the two perpetrators accountable. He was also quick to show solidarity for Manchester United team-mate Paul Pogba and England teammate Tammy Abraham earlier in the season when they were subjected to the same.

When speaking to FourFourTwo magazine in April, Rashford recalled how irrevocably changed his life had become after his rise to superstardom with braces against FC Midtjylland and Arsenal. He went to Trafford Centre the next day, only to find out that he couldn’t nip over there anymore and he could no longer go for a kickabout with his pals at the park that he frequented prior to the fame.

Rashford once shared a letter on Twitter that his mum had dug out. He was 11 years old when he wrote it and it highlights his aims for the future and his journey to that point. The causes he takes up and his intimate relationship with fans are always with the 11-year-old’s milieu in mind. Manchester United have an extensive history of footballers who have been propelled to superstardom from the days of George Best to David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. Perhaps, the time has come for a reluctant superstar. One who is venerated for building bridges with his followers.

If there are still any questions pertaining to Marcus Rashford’s wages after signing a bumper contract at the start of the 2019-20 season, the last couple of months will go a long way to allaying those concerns. He might not look like the willowy 18-year-old who burst onto the scene but one hopes that he never loses that innocence.

He epitomizes the soft leadership that has been the subject of many a recent case study. None of this will win him favour when he steps up at Anfield or the Etihad — he’ll still be jeered with chorus boos, as is the right of United’s great rivals. But whatever awaits him in a Manchester United or England shirt will pale in comparison to his latest contributions — this will be his greatest legacy. After years of many being disenchanted with the club, the United faithful can look forward to the day when they can gather once again and sing, “Like Manchester, Rashford is Red.”