Man United star Rashford maps out journey from academy standout to world-class talent

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MANCHESTER -- Louis van Gaal is credited with unearthing Marcus Rashford, but it was another Manchester United manager who introduced him to the first team. Rashford was barely 16 when he was asked to make the short walk from the academy building at Carrington to the senior training pitches for the first time.

"It was under David Moyes, and it was a group of us that went over," Rashford told ESPN. "It was an amazing feeling. I remember the training session: We didn't actually touch the ball. We were just doing shape and stuff like that. But then we go back to our own age group, and what you learned from that little 15 or 20 minutes is priceless as a young academy player.

"Those moments really do start to add up, and when you start training with them more regularly, you pick up more things, more things to learn from. That's how you become a first-team player."

Rashford's journey at United began almost 10 years before that call-up from Moyes. By age 6, he was attracting attention from professional clubs, and after brief spells at Manchester City, Everton, Newcastle, Crewe, Accrington and Liverpool, his mum, Melanie, was asked if he could attend a six-week trial at United.

"Before I came to United, there was, like, loads of different clubs," Rashford said. "Obviously, my mum didn't really know much about football. Obviously, we supported Man United. It was my brothers, really, who managed to categorise good academies from bad academies, and then the final decision just came down to which club do you love and want to play for?

"Once I went to United, it was perfect. It was everything that you wish for as a kid. That's how it all began, really. Whether you leave the club or you stay here forever, that feeling never leaves you for your whole life. People say that once you play for Man United, you're always a red, and for me, that's true."

Before Rashford and his teammates started training on the indoor pitch at The Cliff, United's training ground in Salford, they sometimes caught five or 10 minutes of the first team's session. He was drawn to watch goalkeeper Tim Howard, one of his favourite players growing up.

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"It was unbelievable," Rashford said. "It's little things like that, those experiences, that you might not get in other academies at such a young age. But I think United are just clever in the way they do it. They expose you to it, but, like, it's not too much. It's always an excitement thing. When you see them training, your determination and everything goes up another level.

"I think it's important to keep that connection between the academy and the first team as close as possible because when you're young, sometimes it's difficult to see what the end looks like, what your end goal is. If you're in and around the first team, you can see players that have done exactly what you're trying to do, and it just makes things a bit clearer for you. But as a kid, nothing is better than seeing your idols training or playing matches. There's nothing that can match that feeling."

From a young age, Rashford was deemed a "high flier" by the coaches at Carrington, but even they were caught out by his acceleration from youth team football to the senior side. He began the 2015-16 season hoping to cement his place in the under-18 team and ended it playing in an FA Cup final and going to Euro 2016 with England. His United debut came about by chance after Anthony Martial was injured in the warm-up ahead of a Europa League game against FC Midtjylland. He scored twice, and when picked again by Van Gaal to face Arsenal three days later, he scored twice more.

"It was unfortunate for Anthony that he got injured, but it was an opportunity to speed up the process for me playing in the first team," Rashford said. "Because of the way it happened, I wasn't thinking much about anything. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. It was something special for the rest of my career. I just wanted to enjoy it.

"I think I would have made my debut, just later in the season. It was Leicester or Watford away about four months [earlier]. I was on the bench but didn't manage to get on. You could see I was getting closer and closer to the first team and maybe getting a game."

Nearly four years on from his debut, Rashford has played 191 senior games and scored 58 goals. Still only 22, he has winner's medals in the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League, and he helped England reach the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup. He has netted 10 goals and added four assists in 17 Premier League appearances so far this season. The academy building he used to get changed in has his image splashed across the walls alongside other notable graduates such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham.

"It's a bit overwhelming, but when you look at it, it's just, like, the process of development," Rashford said. "The players I looked up to are obviously older now. The younger players look up to us. That transition happens so fast. Until I understood that, my perception of that picture changed a little bit. It became a bit more normal. I understand what it does for the kids.

"When I was younger and would see people like Beckham and Scholes on the walls, it gives you that determination every time you went to training. You would want to reach those heights. You know they are on the other side of the building, and they are training every day and working hard. You would go and watch them on a weekend. You would be so far away from them, but you were so close at the same time. That is what those pictures in the academy give you."