Marcus Rashford launched his career by taking unexpected chances that fell his way. Now he has been presented with another unexpected opportunity that could have a significant impact on a pivotal period in his life as well as the fortunes of his club.
It was due to an extreme striker shortage that he made his famous debut nearly seven years ago. He scored two goals on that famous night and did so again in the following game against Arsenal, too. The rest, they say, is history.
Ever since that breakthrough, Rashford has perhaps unfairly been judged on his attacking output in a Manchester United shirt, with his success largely determined by whether or not he has found the back of the net in a match.
Rashford was only ever seen as a short-term stopgap in attack but quickly became indispensable to the side for the qualities he brought to the forward line. It has not always been about the goals he has plundered or the assists he has grabbed, but so often it has remained the thing that has defined him.
The 25-year-old’s goal contributions have always tended to come around as a result of the other things he has been doing right on the pitch, and it is no coincidence the goals are now flowing since he regained his confidence under Erik ten Hag.
Rashford has already surpassed his goal tally from last season with eight goals in 19 appearances under the new United manager. What has changed is not his ability; he has had that all along, but his overall demeanour and the fact that he is now visibly happier and a lot more confident on the pitch.
“It’s a completely different energy around the club and the training ground,” he told Sky Sports last month. “That puts me in a better headspace and I just feel really motivated now. That’s the area I was struggling in.
“I was struggling at times with more mental things. It wasn’t really my own performance but other things off the pitch. That’s the biggest difference from last season.
“I get that it’s your job to speak about what happens on the pitch, but for the players, we have to get into the right headspace for every game.
“Too often last season, I wasn’t in the right headspace for games. I wasn’t surprised by some of the stuff that was happening.”
Goals are a natural by-product of everything else he has been doing right on the pitch this season, and with Rashford looking so revitalised he might be set to benefit again from Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit this week.
United will look to sign a new striker in the January transfer window to help offset his departure, but they will also expect the England international to step up and start performing consistently in a central role.
The quirk of Rashford’s form this season is that only one of his eight goals has actually been scored when he was playing as a designated centre-forward, with all the others coming either when he has started on the left wing or switched there during a match.
Rashford has always shone brightest on the left because it allows him to run at defenders and exploit space with his direct dribbling style, which he rarely gets when used as the spearhead of attacks.
Indeed, the majority of his goals this season have come from counter-attacking opponents, but with his thumping header against West Ham, we saw his raw goalscoring instinct, a player capable of leading the line and being the main man for his side.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he reached his peak with 17 goals in 31 Premier League games, most of which came from the left flank of the attack. It’s no surprise that now, as then, he has discovered this potency when playing with freedom and a love for the game that stems from his manager’s careful management.
United should only be in the market for a new striker in the January window if it is a deal that suits them and adds genuine value to the side, and there is no guarantee that will be the case.
What is certain, though, is that Ten Hag will look for more from Rashford to help alleviate the loss of Ronaldo, a challenge that he looks ready for.
Rashford is the short-term striker solution again, and it might be the closest he’s been to being their long-term answer too.