MARCUS RASHFORD arrived on the scene at Manchester United by glorious accident – just like his current managers with club and country.
A knee injury to Wayne Rooney, a late pull-out from Anthony Martial and a striker who’s 'Manc born and bred' was thrust in to United’s starting line-up for the Europa League tie against Danish club Midtjylland.
Yet the local lad in question should have been Will Keane – twin brother of Everton defender Michael.
At five years older than Rashford, Will was on the brink of a first-team breakthrough after several loan moves.
With Louis Van Gaal’s United at least one striker short throughout that 2015-16 season, Keane had made a couple of sub appearances, yet he too was struck down by injury.
So enter Rashford – 'Marcus who?' to all of us who were at Old Trafford that night – to see if United could avoid embarrassment after a 2-1 first-leg defeat in Denmark.
It was Rashford’s Sliding Doors moment.
Suddenly the 18-year-old kid who’d started that season in the youth team rather than the reserves was Manchester United’s centre forward.
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Often a talented teenager coming through the ranks at a top-six club is widely whispered about before their first-team breakthrough.
Yet nobody had seen him coming.
Rashford – who famously won his fight with Boris Johnson to feed hungry kids at Christmas – scored twice on his first-team debut, then twice on his Premier League debut to deliver a devastating blow to Arsenal’s title hopes in a 3-2 victory.
After that he snaffled the only goal at the Etihad in his first Manchester derby.
He would go on to score on his England debut and his Champions League debut too – showcasing the supreme calmness he needed in injury-time at the Parc des Princes as United pulled off a miracle in March 2019.
That penalty to complete an astonishing Champions League comeback against Paris St Germain was the first spot-kick Rashford ever took for United.
After a mysterious VAR call gave United their chance, Paris Saint-Germain’s experienced dark-artists tried every trick to distract him and Rashford buried it.
Again United had been in the midst of an injury crisis in Europe. Again Rashford had stepped up.
According to then-United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both Rashford and Romelu Lukaku were on penalty duty that night and had been asked to fight it out between them.
Rashford later revealed Lukaku let him take the spot-kick so he could grab the headlines.
He was never likely to miss. Rashford doesn’t do nerves. Yet had United never suffered that injury crisis in February 2016 then who knows?
He hadn’t been earmarked for a breakthrough that season and then came Jose Mourinho – hardly a man given to blooding unproven kids – along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A year later, £75million Lukaku.
So, however talented, Rashford could have drifted – like Will Keane, currently at Wigan.
Or like the other United kid to make his debut against Midtjylland, full-back Joe Riley – now at League Two Walsall.
Rashford was always blessed with outstanding ball skills but physically, he was a late developer.
And the X factor for any striker is the ability to deliver under pressure – a quality impossible to measure until he is given a first-team opportunity.
Those two and a half years under Mourinho were not a complete wasteland.
Rashford continued to play regularly but, more often than not, on the wing – and it never felt as though the Portuguese believed in him.
His disgusted reaction when Rashford squandered a chance against Young Boys in the Champions League group stage seemed to sum up their relationship.
Yet even before he was appointed as United’s caretaker boss, Solskjaer had recognised a kindred goal-poaching spirit in Rashford.
Four seasons ago, he’d give the young Englishman a pep talk about rediscovering that calmness in front of goal which had given him his breakthrough in the first place.
As soon as Solskjaer took over as caretaker boss, Rashford was revitalised.
He scored the first goal of the Norwegian’s reign after just three minutes at Cardiff, then netted again against Bournemouth.
Although his magnificent assist for Paul Pogba was the highlight of that match, with United clearly discovering their joie de vivre.
England boss Southgate, like Solskjaer, stumbled upon his current job as a lucky caretaker, having suffered relegation in his previous Premier League job.
And even though Rashford missed a crucial spot-kick in the Euro 2020 Final and missed out on the recent Nations Leagues squads, he found himself back in favour at the World Cup in Qatar following some phenomenal performances for Man Utd this campaign under Erik ten Hag.
And he now looks se to be a staple in both teams for years to come after a record-breaking goalscoring season.
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