In a revealing interview with The Players’ Tribune, Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has opened up on the impact Reds team-mate Wayne Rooney has had on his career.
After being called up by Gareth Southgate last week, Rashford is currently preparing for England’s upcoming friendly with Germany and World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, before returning to action with United at the start of April.
It’s been a rapid and remarkable rise for the youngster, who has been reflecting on his connection with the Three Lions, starting with the moment he received his first England shirt – one which featured Rooney’s name on the back.
“Growing up in Manchester, my family had a little competition going on. Whenever they were buying me a gift for my birthday or for Christmas or whatever, they always knew the easy thing to get me. The latest football kit.
“But, coming from Manchester, families can be… divided. At least mine was. Half my family were United supporters and the other half were City. So these kits were more than gifts, you know what I mean? Especially as I got older and I kept getting better at football, my uncles would buy me the newest red or blue kits to try to bring me over to their side. It was a bit of a running joke in our family.
“But there was one kit that I will never forget getting, and it wasn’t United or City. One night, I came home after a kickabout with my brothers out front. My uncle was over and he had something for me. Another football top. Another red football top – he was United all the way.
“I took it from him and looked at it. And that was when I realized that this one was different. On the top left of the chest was a crest with three lions and one gold star. My first England shirt. I flipped it over to see if it had a number on the back. (That was always a big deal.) It was 9 and, just above that… ROONEY.
“As every kid does, when you’re having a kickabout and you’ve got someone’s name on your back, you just try to follow in their footsteps. I was a striker, so from that day, I wanted to be just like Rooney. And I wanted to play for England.”
Of course, the opportunity came for Rashford when he earned his first cap against Australia at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light last May.
“All the days (and nights) leading up to your England debut, you can’t stop trying to imagine what it’s going to be like,” he said. “You play it through in your head over and over again. You think about the pitch. You think about walking into the changing room. But whatever you expect, it’s never going to be like that. It’s never going to be like how you dreamed. It’s so much better than that.
“I walked into the changing room for our friendly against Australia last May and saw all the shirts hanging up at each of the lockers. I remember looking around for mine … and then I saw it.
“Red football top. With a crest on the left chest. Three lions. One gold star. Man. I flipped it around; 9, and just above that… RASHFORD.
“At the start of the second half, there was another moment I’ll never forget. Number 19 got subbed into the match, and all of a sudden I was sharing the pitch with Rooney… for England. Massive.
“I’m even on the pitch when he scores our second goal. I’m not out on the green at the council estate, or watching England on telly. I’m right next to him. That was special. I know the comparisons that have been made between the two of us. I know the expectations that people have of me. For me, I’m just focused on improving my game however I can. And being around Wayne and training with him has been massive for that.
“He speaks to me a lot about the game — the positions he’s been in, the situations he’s had to deal with. I first met Wayne after my debut for United. He was injured at the time, but he came into the changing room after the game, walked straight up to me and said congratulations. It may seem like a small thing, but it wasn’t. It meant a lot to me.
“And honestly, that’s how it’s been with Wayne. He’s just a really relaxed guy. ‘Just go out and play,’ he’ll tell me. ‘Don’t feel nervous. Play your own game and feel free on the pitch.’ And that’s Wayne. You’re not necessarily going to get a big speech. But he’s been through so much that he knows exactly what’s needed at the time. When we were knocked out by Iceland at Euros, it was a massive disappointment.
“We were all sitting around in the dressing room after the match, not sure what to think. But then Wayne gets up. And he says one thing. ‘Keep your head up. We’ve got a lot to fight for in the future.’ But he says it to each individual person. One by one, he goes up to us and looks us in the eye. ‘Keep your head up. Look forward.’
“So that’s where we are now. Our heads are up and we’re fighting for the future. I know I’m young — the whole squad is quite young — but we want to make history in the time we’ve got. We know that when people look back on our team, it’s the trophies that they are going to judge us on.”