LAST Friday was billed as a momentous day for Manchester United.
The day a bunch of American investment bankers had set a deadline for takeover bids to buy out the Glazer family.
And United fans were left to contemplate Qatari ownership — with concerns over human rights abuses and the Hollywood recruitment model they already employ at Paris Saint-Germain — or Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Monaco-based, tax-avoiding, anti-environmentalist fracker.
Or worse still, the idea of an American hedge fund providing extra investment to keep the hated Glazers in power. With another of England’s elite football clubs being touted around to shady billionaires from across the globe, it felt as if Marcus Rashford’s ground-breaking Sunday afternoon could not have been more welcome.
Here was a local hero from Wythenshawe — and a fearless anti-poverty campaigner — emerging as the hottest goalscorer in Europe.
Rashford represents the authentic soul of Manchester United. He is a link to what football clubs used to be about before the Premier League became an ego-tripping playground for some of the wealthiest men on Earth.
And here Rashford was, bursting with confidence, scoring twice in a 3-0 win over Leicester, edging United into a three-horse title race and reaching a career-best 24 club goals for the season, with United still having four trophies to play for.
Since the World Cup — where he scored three goals for England in just 137 minutes of football and should have played more — Rashford has netted 16 times in 17 games, at a rate not even Erling Haaland can currently match.
Should Rashford extend that streak for the next fortnight — during which time United face Barcelona, a Carabao Cup final against Newcastle and a league trip to Anfield — then the sky’s the limit for Erik ten Hag’s team.
It is thrilling to see Rashford, at 25, fulfilling his youthful potential on a consistent basis.
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While his ability has never been doubted, his predatory instinct has flickered on and off.
Now, whether at centre-forward or cutting in from his more familiar position on the left, Rashford is finishing like a man in cross-haired contact lenses.
For his first goal against Leicester, Rashford might easily have centred for Alejandro Garnacho had he not been in such extraordinary form.
His second was initially ruled out by a linesman’s flag but while there was a delay for a VAR check, Rashford looked convinced — quite rightly — that a tight offside call would fall in his favour.
When world-class sportsmen talk about those moments when they are totally in the zone, they see things differently, as if everything is magnified.
That is Rashford right now. He knows he will score, he knows he is marginally onside.
Class may be permanent but that feeling of being bang in form, often elusive even to the best, still matters massively.
Ten Hag has had a hugely positive influence on Rashford and several other United players.
Ending the Cristiano Ronaldo circus had a more significant positive impact than any of them would publicly admit.
United are a proper team again for the first time in years.
And while the boardroom power games play out, and supporters who seek escapism in football are forced into questions of morality they didn’t ask for, it truly matters that Rashford is a boyhood United fan from a tough Manchester suburb.
And it matters that he has done more to combat child hunger than any politician in recent years.
Supporters want to take pride in their football club and that is increasingly difficult as the Qataris and the frackers and the hedge funds wrestle for control.
Rashford gives them pride. Rashford connects their club with its roots.
Rashford reminds them that football can still be a force for good, even in an age of obscene wealth and grasping greed.
POT NO DRAMA
I ADMIRED Graham Potter’s answer to an excellent question from my colleague Andrew Dillon last week, about whether he has ever got angry.
Potter said he felt a responsibility to himself, his club and the wider game to act in a decent manner.
He is staying true to himself and will not indulge in performative anger on the touchline just because it is being demanded of him.
Yet when you are Chelsea manager and you lose at home to bottom-club Southampton and don’t sound particularly annoyed by a run of two wins in 14 matches, that also suggests you might simply be too decent a bloke to manage a major club.
WITH Fulham, Brighton and Brentford all with hopes of playing in Europe, I keep hearing ‘the last thing they need is Thursday night football next season’.
Yet Fulham, the only of those three clubs to have played in Europe before, enjoyed some of their most historic nights en route to the Europa League final in 2010.
No club should ever shy away from making similar memories.
FANCY playing the Alan Shearer Match of the Day drinking game?
Every time Shearer analyses a squandered scoring opportunity and says ‘should have been in the back of the net’, you take a swig of something strong.
This averages out at around ten ‘back of the nets’ per episode.
I haven’t had a Sunday morning without a hangover since I invented the game.
DICKIE NEVER PICKY
THE death of legendary broadcaster Dickie Davies, at 94, reminds us of Saturday afternoons watching a myriad of sports on his World of Sport and Grandstand.
Us kids of the 80s learnt to love rally driving, show jumping, swimming, rugby league and, of course, Big Daddy taking on Giant Haystacks in the wrestling.
The absolute dominance of football in our sporting consciousness makes you yearn for more varied times.
STOKES FUN OF A KIND
WHEN you engage with elite sports people, they often say they are fuelled primarily by an abject fear of losing.
The great National Hunt jockey AP McCoy was particularly impassioned when he talked to me about that idea.
And you almost end up feeling sorry for them as their brilliance seems to give them so little joy.
Since Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took over England’s Test cricket team, they have won ten matches out of 11 — largely by taking away the fear of losing.
They enjoy themselves, entertain the public and would rather risk defeat than settle for a draw.
Every sports person starts playing sport for fun — but the idea that keeping it fun might be the key to success at elite level is a revolutionary one.
PREM AT THE DEN
MILLWALL are in the thick of the play-off race after a fine win over Sheffield United.
I know these South London rascals reckon none of us like them but wouldn’t it be glorious if they gatecrashed the Premier League.
And the whole world got to know lyrics ‘Let ’em all come down to The Den’?
EX-Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg feels officials are scared of making big calls thanks to VAR.
So refs don’t like it, fans don’t like it, players and bosses don’t like it and the game suffers because of it.
Only the broadcasters actually want this damned thing.