Marcus Rashford's rapid journey from facing Norwich City U21s to a potential England debut
Sports reporter David Freezer turns the clock back just six months to the night he first saw England's newest star in action
Back in November a striker was brought on as a substitute for Manchester United Under-21s in a 2-0 loss at Carrow Road and barely made an impression – tonight that same player is set to make his England debut.
Marcus Rashford has enjoyed a fairytale rise to stardom in recent months, but there was little hint of what was to come when he took on the Norwich U21s that night.
Just over 5,000 supporters watched on as a Canaries team bolstered by over-age players Declan Rudd, Graham Dorrans and Kyle Lafferty won their latest U21 Premier League match.
Rashford – who had turned 18 just three weeks earlier – was brought on in the 55th minute of the encounter with the score still 0-0.
Lafferty blasted the hosts ahead less than two minutes later, lashing home after a lovely pass from Dorrans to take control of proceedings.
Rashford did threaten five minutes later as he charged through on goal, only to be thwarted by a combination of Rudd and centre-back Joe Crowe.
With Jamar Loza completing the victory for City in the 75th minute, there was little further chance for the young striker to impress, with Nick Powell the most recognisable name in the line-up for the visitors.
Just over two months later Rashford made his debut for United’s first team, scoring twice in a 5-1 victory over Danish side Midtjylland in the Europa League after a late call-up due to an injury to £36m French star Anthony Martial in the warm-up.
On Saturday the Manchester-born starlet started at Wembley as Louis van Gaal’s side beat Crystal Palace 2-1 to lift the FA Cup and the speedy striker finished the campaign with eight goals in 18 games.
Tonight he is expected to feature for England in a friendly against Australia in Sunderland, as he looks to press his claims for a place in Roy Hodgson’s final 23-man squad for this summer’s European Championship.
No one at Carrow Road just over six months ago could have predicted that meteoric rise, but it just goes to show what can happen if the enthusiasm of young talent is unleashed.
A week after that match, Jamar Loza smashed home five in a 7-2 demolition of Southampton U21s at Carrow Road. His reward? Being loaned to League One side Southend for the rest of the season.
Of course, not every young player will excel in the way Rashford has. Loza barely featured for the Shrimpers and City boss Alex Neil was hampered by the pressure of a relegation battle that United did not have to worry about.
Yet ahead of a season when the likes of the Murphy twins, James Maddison, Harry Toffolo and Carlton Morris all look ready to push for first-team places, Rashford’s emergence can act as a timely reminder that sometimes fortune really does favour the brave.