What if Anthony Martial had never tweaked his hamstring warming up against FC Midtjylland?
Then again, perhaps Marcus Rashford – a last-minute addition to the line-up that night, who duly scored twice before keeping his place to repeat the trick against Arsenal three days later – was talented enough to ensure his chance would have come sooner or later.
But perhaps not. Rashford, whose 20 months of senior football have been a thrill-a-minute upsurge towards elite-level genius, is a rarity among high-grade youngsters in that he emerged with almost no hype surrounding him. Only a few clued-up souls had the slightest idea who he was: when taking to the field for Manchester United, he didn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
Rather than having been destined for greatness from day one, Rashford seemed to have decided to impose greatness onto himself, squeezing every ounce of potential from each opportunity he’s been afforded.
Considering that Rashford hadn't kicked a football at senior level until February 2016, it’s faintly staggering that out of he and Martial – a resplendent attacking talent and until recently the planet’s most expensive teenager – it’s the Wythenshawe-born local boy who is rightly considered the most exciting player.
As a player, Rashford boasts all the hallmarks of an exhilarating attacking prospect: a screeching turn of pace; deftness of touch; fearlessness in driving towards goal.
But it’s his understanding of the game’s shapes and patterns that marks him as an exception among the exceptional. Whether it’s the out-to-in, off-the-ball run to get himself played in on goal; the early whipped cross to put one on a plate for a team-mate; or the perfectly timed arrival into a crowded penalty area that secures a straightforward-looking tap-in – Rashford seems to already have access to a whole repertoire of canny tricks that take most players an entire career to acquire.
Greatness awaits – and it won’t be waiting long.
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