Marcus Rashford is the most in-form player in the Premier League, if not in European football.
The Manchester United forward has scored 10 goals in as many games since returning from the World Cup, twice as many as last season. With this game, it is the rarest of things: a player, at any moment, in any way, can score from anywhere.
However, whether it’s a thumbs-up from inside the six-yard box against Manchester City, a screamer from away in the defeat to Arsenal, or a brilliant solo run through defenders as if they’re not there like against Nottingham Forest in midweek, there’s one common denominator.
Since the turn of the year, all of Rashford’s goals have been followed by the same celebrations that have not been seen before this spurt of inconsistent form.
You know how it goes. He runs to one corner of the channel, stands still, perhaps closing his eyes, but always pointing to his temple.
His first exit was after the winner wandered to Wolverhampton on New Year’s Eve, the same day he was left by Eric Ten Hag for the punishment of falling asleep in himself and late for the meeting.
He has followed every goal that Rashford has scored, since the recent strikes at Bournemouth and Everton, then twice at Charlton Athletic and after the winner at Manderby.
As Alan Shearer raised his hand, Gareth Bale’s heart and Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘siu’, it becomes a trademark. The only question is: what is the reason?
Rashford is keen to keep his full meaning under wraps, preferring to keep people guessing, to the extent that he even kept his cards close to his chest when asked about United’s in-house media celebration.
Those who expressed Rashford’s similar celebration to Aurelien Tchouameni after his goal against England in Qatar are eagle-eyed but wrong.
Rashford’s celebration broke out between him and his friends.
It tells of Rashford ditching the external noise that has sometimes followed him in his career and finding a new focus.
That focus seems to have caught on, and when combined with United’s packed schedule, that celebration means it’s been watched almost twice a week since its inception, and has been broadcast to millions around the world.
It is not surprising that he took a life of his own and began to transcend the game.
Jofra Archer, the English cricketer, took it after he folded on his return to a competitive match in South Africa’s SA20. The striker has just emerged from arguably the toughest period of his career, with the last eighteen months sidelined by elbow and back injuries.
Jofra Archer x Marcus Rashford #SA20pic.twitter.com/MHARlONG7w
– The Cricketer (@TheCricketerMag) 23 January 2023
Far from the first, though, and the list of libraries is growing. Tammy Abraham commented under Rashford’s Instagram which depicted the celebration against Everton, which he later performed after an injury time equalizer in Roma’s 2-2 draw with AC Milan the same weekend.
Danny Welbeck was the first Premier League player to imitate Rashford, showing off his temple after scoring Brighton’s third in their 3-0 win over Liverpool this month.
Welbeck spoke to Rashford before his celebration and in a spirit of solidarity with another local academy graduate and native, he spoke hours after United’s victory in the Manchester derby.
Then, this week, he moved on to European football on Tuesday night when Joshua Kimmich scored after scoring in Bayern Munich’s 1-1 draw against Cologne.
That same night, Joelinton did the same after defeating Southampton in the Carabao Cup semi-final at Newcastle, flexing a muscle in the same arm for good measure.
The first player to adore was a more likely figure: Armando Dobra Chesterfield winger Armando, who still stopped the stock and stood up to his head after scoring in the National League side’s 3-3 draw with West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup third round.
Perhaps the most ambitious imitation by far, though, was Saka Bukayo. The Arsenal youngster imitated Rashford, running to the same corner of the stadium, to give his side a 2-1 win at the Emirates on Sunday in a 3-2 win that was increasing in that part of north London.
In a fixture with a history of personal wealth struggles, was this the final frontier? Perhaps, but that seems unlikely. Rashford and Saka know each other well through international duty and the pair embraced as they walked out of the tunnel next to each other before kick-off.
And yet who would object to Rashford celebrating his rebirth? He spoke of struggling to find the right “head” last season when he lost his place in England and only completed 90 minutes at the turn of the year.
After reaching the milestone of 100 goals for United, he revealed the challenge around that time.
“I’ve struggled with worse things at times,” Rashford said in October. “It was not my achievement, but something else on the pitch. As the biggest difference is the time period. Many times in the last season, I was not in the right direction of the games.”
Rashford is far from the only player at Old Trafford, enjoying his new lease of life after the misery of last season. Ten Hag said as much in the build-up to the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Reading, reflecting his greater confidence across United’s attack compared to last season.
“In front of the line now also gives me a positive feeling, then it is stronger, and they can get more results from each other,” said the manager of America.
“In the first (part) of the season, we had many problems in the front line. We often had games in which we did not have players who were 100 percent physically and mentally fit. Now that is much more, and M. can benefit even more from these things.
In the case of Rashford, Ten Hag rejected the opportunity to take credit for his player’s renewed form and instead let Rashford down, who had far more faith in his talent.
“I’m not Harry Potter. It’s just confidence,” the joint manager said. “Every player has something to do and his own confidence. He fought for this, he invested in this.
Rashford has undoubtedly benefited from the greater sense of structure that Ten Hag brought to Britain, though – as almost all of his team-mates have too – and the manager hasn’t denied that.
“In my coaching staff we bring structures, especially the way of playing that give him the routines he needs to get into the right place,” said Ten Hag. “But ultimately it’s up to the player.”
(Top photo: Naomi Baker via Getty Images)