MARCUS RASHFORD says forget ability, it is all about mentality.
That explains why after the Manchester United ace scores he runs to the sidelines and points to his temple.
It is a celebration which has been copied by major sports stars around the globe, including world tennis No 1 Novak Djokovic.
Rashford, 25, said: “Football’s probably 95 per cent to do with your mentality.
“For me that’s everything that gives you the base line to go and perform.
“Without that side, you are just playing off ability.
“There are many players with ability, it’s why they play at the top level.
“But what sets them apart is the mentality and I’ve been on both sides of it. I understand the strength of it and the value of it.
“I’m just concentrating a lot more on keeping myself in that headspace and I think it’s needed in order to go and win games and trophies.”
And what a headspace the England striker is in right now.
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He heads into Sunday’s Carabao Cup final with Newcastle after hitting 24 goals this season and after a special night at Old Trafford on Thursday when the Red Devils beat Barcelona to reach the Europa League’s last 16.
Rashford is a player transformed under boss Erik ten Hag and admitted earlier this season he simply had not been mentally there in the previous campaign — the worst of his career as he scored just five goals.
He said: “I struggled at times last season — more mental things, not my own performance.
“It was other things off the pitch. Too often I wasn’t in the right headspace.”
Rashford suffered back and shoulder injuries between January 2020 and October 2021.
There was clearly a knock-on effect from both as he delayed an operation on his shoulder just to be fit for England and the Euros and it was a very tough time.
He said: “I don’t think anyone — apart from the people at the club — knows how long I was dealing with those issues and they probably won’t know until I say.
“But it wasn’t just one season, it was a period where every day was tough and you have to just sacrifice.
“I’ve always been one to try to be out on the pitch as much as I possibly can and, for me, that’s where I get the happiness.
“If I’m out injured then I’m not happy, I’m dealing with the pain and I’m not happy.
“So I would rather try to deal with the pain as long as I can perform and still help the team, I’d always choose to do that.”
Right now, Rashford is enjoying the season of his life.
Saturday marks seven years since his Red Devils first-team debut when he scored twice in a 5-1 win over Midtjylland in the Europa League.
It has been a rollercoaster since but now he is flying, having already smashed his previous season’s best total of 22 goals in a campaign.
The former United youth-team star has scored 17 times since returning from the World Cup in December to go with the three he notched in Qatar.
So what has clicked?
He said: “I’m just in the areas to score goals more consistently. It’s something I’ve been working on.
“In recent years I feel like even seasons where I’ve done alright I could’ve added another ten or 15 goals if I was more consistent in the areas.”
Ten Hag has emphasised how Rashford needed to be alert for every second of every game for that chance that could decide the match.
The England man clearly listened to the Dutchman and the wisdom of first-team coach and former striker Benni McCarthy.
He said: “Benni does a lot of work with the forwards but the staff as a whole talk to you about that one chance. As a forward, it’s the one that sometimes decides the game.
“You could have a quiet game and conditions might not be so good.
“It may be difficult to keep the ball on the floor, or you could be playing against opponents who don’t keep the ball on the floor — it’s very different to how we play football.
“So the type of chances you get might vary against different teams.
“But the only thing I can focus on is me consistently being in the areas to score goals.
“That is what is within my capabilities and it’s what I’ve just been doing.
“The staff have been always giving me constant reminders to keep going.
“If the ball doesn’t come, don’t worry as it’s going to come — but it may only come one time.”
While Rashford is understandably in Ten Hag’s good books now, that has not always been the case — not least when he dropped him for the trip to Wolves on New Year’s Eve.
The star had arrived late for a team meeting and was dropped — but he then came off the bench in the second half and bagged the winner.
Rashford completely supports the manager’s actions, believing a hardline on discipline is needed.
He said: “I never made a thing out of it because — if I was a coach — I’d have done the same.
“If you don’t have standards in the training ground how do you expect to go out on the pitch and win consistently? It’s impossible.
“If you’re going to allow each other to slip or have an off-day and no one says anything — which is at times a position that we’ve been in — it’s difficult to get out of it as it becomes normal.
“I’ve not seen it at this club before and as I mentioned before about constant reminders of being in the areas, it is the same thing with constant reminders about discipline.
“And however harsh that reminder is, it’s a reminder.
“For me, it was not starting a game but you have to accept it and you have to move forward.”
The next step forward is to put that first trophy of the Ten Hag era on the table by beating the Magpies.
And there is no doubt there is that winning feeling in the Red Devils’ in-form squad as they head to Wembley.
Rashford added: “I think now, at the minute, we have it.
“It is a good position to be in as a player because you feel like your aims and objectives are reachable.”