Marcus Rashford and the goal celebration that transcends football
Marcus Rashford is the most formable player in Premier League, if not European football.
The Manchester United striker has scored 10 goals in as many games since his return from the World Cup, twice as many as last season. When he plays like this, he is so rare: a player who can score at any time, in any way, anywhere.
But whether it’s a toepoke from the box against Manchester City, the screamer from long range in the defeat to Arsenal, or a brilliant solo running through defenders as if they’re not there as against Nottingham Forest in midweek was one common denominator.
Since the turn of the year, all of Rashford’s goals have been followed by the same celebration, a celebration not seen before this burst of unstoppable form.
You know the drill. He runs to one of the corner flags, stands still, perhaps closing his eyes, but always pointing his index finger at his temple.
The first appearance came after his winner was away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on New Year’s Eve, the same day he was left out of the starting line-up by Erik ten Hag as punishment for sleeping late and arriving late for a meeting.
It followed every goal Rashford has scored since then, from the late goals against Bournemouth and Everton, then twice in quick succession against Charlton Athletic and after his winner in the Manchester derby.
Like the raised hand of Alan Shearer, the heart of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, it becomes a trademark. The only question is: what is the underlying idea?
Rashford wants to keep its full significance under wraps and prefers to keep people guessing, to the extent that he even held his cards close to his chest when asked about the celebration by United’s internal media team.
Those who have suggested that Rashford copied Aurelien Tchouameni’s similar celebration after his goal against England in Qatar are eagle-eyed but wrong.
Rashford’s party started between him and his close friends.
It has to do with Rashford shutting out the outside noise that has sometimes followed him throughout his career, and finding a new focus.
That focus seems to have led to dazzling form and, coupled with United’s jam-packed schedule, that form means the celebration has been watched practically twice a week since its inception and broadcast to millions around the world on each occasion.
It’s no surprise that it has taken on a life of its own and transcended sport.
Jofra Archer, the England cricketer, took over after taking wickets on his return to competitive matches in SA20 in South Africa. Archer may have just emerged from the toughest period of his career, having been sidelined for the past 18 months with elbow and back injuries.
Jofra Archer x Marcus Rashford #SA20pic.twitter.com/MHARlONG7w
The Cricketer (@TheCricketerMag) January 23, 2023
However, he was far from the first and the list of copycats is growing. Tammy Abraham responded under an Instagram post from Rashfords depicting the celebration against Everton, then carried it out after scoring the equalizer in stoppage time in Roma’s 2-2 draw against AC Milan that same weekend.
Danny Welbeck was the first Premier League player to imitate Rashford by pointing to his temple after scoring Brightons third in their 3-0 win over Liverpool this month.
Welbeck spoke to Rashford before using the celebration and carried it out in the spirit of solidarity with another locally born academy graduate, hours after United’s victory in the Manchester derby.
Then, this week, it moved into European football on Tuesday night when Joshua Kimmich dubbed it after scoring in Bayern Munich’s 1-1 draw with Cologne.
On the same night, Joelinton did the same after scoring in Newcastle’s Carabao Cup semi-final win against Southampton, flexing his muscles with the same arm just to be on the safe side.
The first player to pay tribute was a more unlikely figure: Chesterfield winger Armando Dobra, who stopped silently and pointed to his head after scoring in the National League sides’ 3-3 draw with West Bromwich Albion in the third round of the FA Cup.
Perhaps the most intriguing imitation to date was that of Bukayo Saka. The young Arsenal player mimicked Rashford and ran for the same corner of the stadium after beating his side 2-1 at the Emirates on Sunday in a 3-2 victory that heightened the excitement in that part of north London.
Was this the latest frontier in a match with a rich history of interpersonal rivalry? Maybe, but that seems unlikely. Rashford and Saka know each other well from international duty and the pair embraced as they walked out of the tunnel side by side for kick-off.
And finally, who would object to Rashford celebrating his own renaissance? He has spoken of struggling to find the right headspace last season when he lost his place in England and only completed 90 minutes once after the turn of the year.
Having reached the milestone of a century of goals for United, he opened up about that challenging period.
I struggled with more mental things at times, Rashford said in October. It wasn’t really my own performance, but other things off the field. That is the biggest difference from last season. Last season I was too often not in the right headspace for games.
Rashford is far from the only player at Old Trafford enjoying a new life after last season’s woes. Ten Hag said the same thing ahead of the FA Cup fourth round tie with Reading, reflecting on the increased confidence in United’s attack compared to earlier in the season.
The front line also gives me a positive feeling now, it is also getting stronger and then they can benefit more from each other, the United manager said.
For example, in the first (part of) season we had a lot of problems on the front line. Often we had games where we didn’t have players who were 100 percent physically and mentally fit. Now that’s much more the case, and Marcus can take advantage of such situations even more.
With regard to Rashford specifically, Ten Hag dismissed the chance to take credit for his player’s resurgence of form and instead credited Rashford with much more faith in his own abilities.
I’m not Harry Potter. It’s just confidence, the United manager said. Each player has to make and get their own confidence. He fought for this, he invested in this.
Rashford has undoubtedly benefited from the greater sense of structure that Ten Hag has brought to United, as have virtually all of his teammates and the manager has not denied that.
With my coaching staff, we introduce structures, especially in the way of playing, that give him the routines he needs to get into the right position, says Ten Hag. But in the end it’s up to him, up to the player.
(Top photo: Naomi Baker via Getty Images)
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