Marcus Rashford was just six years old when Wayne Rooney burst onto the international stage at Euro 2004. And Manchester United‘s new star will be tasked with shouldering the burden in much the same vein at next summer’s World Cup.
Rashford will be 20 when the world’s elite descend on Russia in just 10 months time and a nation’s hopes will be resting upon his shoulders to exceed the levels achieved by former United team-mate Rooney.
The Manchester-born youngster confirmed himself as England‘s next big star with a match-winning display in the narrow 2-1 victory over Slovakia at Wembley on Monday night.
And while England revel in Rashford’s phenomenal talent, Monday’s performance also cranked up the hype beginning to build around the teen sensation.
A fearless superstar at Euro 2016, the 19-year-old has emerged as a critical part of Jose Mourinho’s long-term ambitions at Old Trafford and all eyes are expected to be on him ahead of next summer.
England have had their fair share of teenage stars down the years, from Michael Owen’s stunning introduction at World Cup 1998, to Rooney’s unshakeable showing in Portugal 13 years ago.
And now the mantle has been passed on to another of United’s youngsters and the enviable talents of Rashford, whose development has been nothing short of miraculous.
England boss Gareth Southgate has been made well aware of the attention likely to stare Rashford in the face in the build up to Russia 2018, but backs the excitable forward to cope with the burning expectations of exceeding Rooney’s accomplishments.
Look no further than Monday night to get a flavour of Rashford’s maturity at such a young age.
Inside of two minutes and the 19-year-old had hit rock bottom. Gifting away possession just outside the England penalty area, Slovakia capitalised upon his mistake to take a shock early lead.
Did it phase him? Did it ever. Rashford responded in the only way he knows how, flurrying forward with electric pace and turning provider for Eric Dier to level before the break.
The turnaround in the youngster’s fortunes was completed after half time as he picked up possession inside the Slovakian half before burying a shot into the far corner, to the delight of the Wembley faithful.
“The start surprised me,” Southgate joked post-match. “Having worked with him, I know he’s such a mature character. The switch of wings was important as well as it allowed him to play a slightly different defensive role and he adapted very well to that.
“His maturity is excellent. You look at him and he is never in awe of the occasion. He doesn’t have any fear of anything and he is still a work in progress as we saw at the beginning of the game.
“He’s still getting stronger and his impact in taking people on and getting us higher up the pitch was not only huge for the team but for the crowd as well.”
It’s important to now let Rashford flourish and nurture in his own time and not get too bogged down with the flurry of expectation likely to come his way.
The 19-year-old has enjoyed the perfect start to the new season, with five victories from five games for club and country.
But the grounded youngster is also well aware of the hard work which lies ahead going into the busiest part of the season.
“It’s always great to build momentum and it’s important that we manage to keep it going,” Rashford explained.
“It’s always going to be positive but now we are entering the most difficult part of the season. There are a lot of games coming up and there is less time to recover.
“It’s harder on the body to perform at a consistent level on a regular basis so there is an awful lot of work still to be done.”
England are fortunate to have a rich vein of attacking talent at their disposal which will only serve them well next summer, even if other areas of the pitch are less convincing.
Rashford is expected to spearhead the attacking unit along with Harry Kane and if he can emerge from a major tournament with as much credit as Rooney did in 2004, then England may not be far away from achieving the unthinkable.