Marcus Rashford is the highest performing player in the Premier League, if not in European football.
The Manchester United forward has scored 10 goals in as many games since returning from the World Cup, twice as many as last season. When he plays like this, he is the rarest: a player who can score at any time, in any way, from anywhere.
However, whether it’s a slit from within six yards like Manchester City, a long shot in the loss to Arsenal, or a brilliant solo move past defenders as if they weren’t there like the Nottingham game. Forest in the middle of the week, had a common denominator.
Since the start of the year, all of Rashford’s goals have been followed by the same celebration, something unheard of before this explosive unstoppable form.
You know how it goes. He ran to one of the flags in the corner, standing still, perhaps with his eyes closed, but always pointing his index finger to his temple.
Its first outing came after his winner went to meet Wolverhampton Wanderers on New Year’s Eve, the same day he was dropped from the starting lineup by Erik ten Hag as punishment for oversleeping and being late. in a meeting.
It has followed every goal Rashford has scored since, from late strikes against Bournemouth and Everton, then two in a row against Charlton Athletic and after the winning goal in the Manchester derby.
Like Alan Shearer’s raised hand, Gareth Bale’s ‘heart’ and Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘sui’, it is becoming trademark. The only question is: what is the reason behind it?
Rashford wants to keep its meaning private, preferring to let people guess old, so much so that he even keeps his cards close to his chest when asked by United’s internal media team about the celebration.
Those who think Rashford copied Aurelien Tchouameni’s similar celebration after his goal against England in Qatar are sharp-eyed but wrong.
Rashford’s celebration originated between him and close friends.
It involved Rashford removing the external noises that had sometimes followed him throughout his career and finding new focus.
That focus seems to have led to dazzling form, and when combined with United’s dense fixture schedule, that form means the celebration has been practically watched twice a week since its inception and broadcast to millions of people around the globe on every occasion.
No wonder it has taken on a life of its own and is beginning to transcend the sport.
Jofra Archer, the British cricketer, used it after picking up the racket while returning to competitive matches in South Africa’s SA20. Archer is said to have just come out of the most difficult period of his career, having spent 18 months sidelined with elbow and back injuries.
Jofra Archer x Marcus Rashford#SA20pic.twitter.com/MHARlONG7w
– Cricket player (@TheCricketerMag) January 23, 2023
However, he is not the first and the list of imitators is growing. Tammy Abraham commented under a Rashford Instagram post describing the celebration against Everton, then performed it after scoring the stoppage-time equalizer in Roma’s 2-2 draw with AC Milan at the weekend. there.
Danny Welbeck is the first Premier League player to imitate Rashford, pointing to his temple after scoring Brighton’s third in a 3-0 win over Liverpool this month.
Welbeck spoke to Rashford before performing the celebration and did it in solidarity with another locally-born academy graduate, hours after United’s win in the Manchester derby.
Then this week it spread to European football on Tuesday night when Joshua Kimmich copied it after scoring in Bayern Munich’s 1-1 draw with Cologne.
On the same night, Joelinton did the same after scoring in Newcastle’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Southampton, while flexing his muscles with that same arm.
The first player to pay tribute was a more unlikely figure: Chesterfield winger Armando Dobra, who stood still and pointed at his head after scoring in the team’s 3-3 draw. of the National League against West Bromwich Albion in the third round of the FA Cup.
Perhaps the most compelling imitation to date, however, is that of Bukayo Saka. The Arsenal youngster imitated Rashford, running to the same corner of the stadium, after giving his side a 2-1 lead at the Emirates on Sunday in a 3-2 win added to the excitement. in the north London area.
In a game with a rich history of interpersonal rivalry, is this the latest frontier? It’s possible, but that doesn’t seem possible. Rashford and Saka know each other well while on international duty and the two hugged as they stepped out of the tunnel together before the match started.
And after all, who would object to Rashford celebrating his own renaissance? He spoke about struggling to find the right ‘space’ last season, when he lost his place in the England team and completed 90 minutes just once after the start of the year.
After reaching the goalscoring milestone of the century for United, he opened up about that challenging period.
“I had a time when I struggled with more mental things,” said Rashford in October. “It wasn’t really my own performance but other things off the pitch. That’s the biggest difference from last season. Too often last season I wasn’t in the right position for the games.”
Rashford is not the only player at Old Trafford to enjoy a new life after last miserable season. Ten Hag spoke a lot during the preparation for the FA Cup fourth round tie against Reading, reflecting a greater confidence in United’s attack than at the start of the season.
“The forward line also gives me a positive feeling now, it’s also getting stronger and then they can get more out of each other,” the United manager said.
“For example, in (part of) the first season, we had a lot of problems on the front lines. Usually we have games where we don’t have players who are 100% physically and mentally fit. Now it’s much more than that, and Marcus can benefit even more from such situations.”
With Rashford especially, Ten Hag turned down the opportunity to credit his player’s revival and instead made Rashford much more confident in his own abilities.
“I am not Harry Potter. It’s just confidence,” said the United manager. “Each player has to perform and gain his own confidence. He fought for this, he invested in this.
Even so, Rashford has certainly benefited from the sense of greater structure that Ten Hag has brought to United – given the fact that all of his teammates have too – and the manager has not denied it. get that.
Ten Hag said: “With my coaching staff, we brought in structure, especially in the way of play that gave him the habit he needed to get into the right position. “But in the end, it depends on him, on the player.”
(Top photo: Naomi Baker via Getty Images)