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Marcus Rashford blasts criticism over lifestyle and commitment to Man Utd

Marcus Rashford warms up ahead of the English FA Cup fifth round football match between Nottingham Forest and Manchester United at The City Ground, in Nottingham, central England, on February 28, 2024
Marcus Rashford has endured an up-and-down season at Old Trafford - AFP/Oli Scarff

Marcus Rashford has hit back at criticism over his lifestyle and commitment to Manchester United and believes he has suffered a backlash from his campaigning on child food poverty that “seemed to rub certain people the wrong way”.

Rashford was highlighted by BBC pundit Alan Shearer for his body language in the FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest, with the former England striker insisting “you as an individual have to take responsibility now and again for your actions on the pitch”.

The United forward, 26, implied there is a “tone” to the coverage he receives that other footballers are not subject to, suggesting a bias. He has “accepted responsibility for his actions” this season after reporting ill for training having been pictured out in Belfast for two nights prior to that.

“It can’t just be about me as a 26-year-old lad on a night out, or a lad getting a parking ticket,” Rashford wrote on the Players’ Tribune website. “It’s got to be about how much my car costs, guessing my weekly salary, my jewelry or even my tattoos. It’s got to be about my body language, and questioning my morals, and speculating about my family, and my football future. There’s a tone to it that you don’t get with all footballers. Let’s just leave it at that.

“I think some of it goes back to the pandemic. I was just trying to use my voice to make sure that kids weren’t going hungry, because I know exactly how it feels. For some reason, that seemed to rub certain people the wrong way. It seems like they’ve been waiting for me to have a human moment so they can point the finger and say, “See? See who he really is?”

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford reacts during the Emirates FA Cup fifth round match at the City Ground, Nottingham
Rashford received criticism from Alan Shearer for his body language during Man Utd's FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest - PA/Mike Egerton

Rashford received an MBE and was internationally recognised for his work getting free school meals in England during holidays and other support to low-income families. On the pitch last season was his most successful United campaign for goals but his season has seen a slump in form and questions over his commitment.

He revealed turning down “life-changing” money to stay at United’s academy, and also tried out playing for another team before going back to his boyhood club.

“Listen, I’m not a perfect person. When I make a mistake, I’ll be the first one to put my hand up and say that I need to do better,” he said. “But if you ever question my commitment to Man United, that’s when I have to speak up. It’s like somebody questioning my entire identity, and everything I stand for as a man. I grew up here. I have played for this club since I was a boy. My family turned down life-changing money when I was a kid so I could wear this badge.

“I can take any criticism. I can take any headline. From podcasts, social media and the papers. I can take it. But if you start questioning my commitment to this club and my love for football and bringing my family into it, then I’d simply ask you to have a bit more humanity.”

Rashford played in the defeat by Fulham that dented United’s Champions League qualification hopes last weekend.

“I promise you, the world has not seen the best of this United squad and these players,” he said. “We want to be back playing in the Champions League, then we have a massive international tournament at the end of the season. We will be back where we belong. We just have to keep working, and that starts with me.”

Rashford on...

Childhood
Rashford described the public version of his upbringing as “only scratching the surface” and that there was more to his childhood than being from Wythenshawe, in the south of Manchester. That was where he lived with his mother but he also stayed with his auntie in Hulme, in Moss Side with his grandmother and with his brother in Chorlton. “I wouldn’t change any of it, as hard as it was, because it molded me into who I am,” he wrote. When he started at United aged seven, he used to take four buses across Manchester to get to training at The Cliff. “Somebody had to take off work to go with me because nobody had a car in our family,” he wrote. “Nobody even had a license. In them early days, it was two buses into town, then we had to walk through the city to get to the other bus out of town to get to Salford. Even in the pouring rain. Nothing really good to eat.”

Offers to leave United 
By the time he was 11 years old, other clubs were trying to entice the Rashfords into moving him away from United. At that age, his family were in charge of his affairs, rather than an agent and Rashford discusses a family meeting where he made it clear he wanted to play for United. “A few clubs offered us life-changing money. We’ll buy the family a home, we’ll put cars in your garage,” he wrote. “We’ll change your family’s life. At the time, my mum was working as a cashier at Ladbrokes. My brother was working for AA. They had every right to tell me, ‘Just take the deal’.” Rashford also reveals playing two games for a different Academy but telling his family that he wanted to return to United. This was a big risk, Rashford says, insisting “we bet everything on ourselves - all our chips”.

Marcus Rashford
Rashford has been with Manchester United for his entire career - instagram/@a.leather07

Mistakes
Rashford’s 2,000 words was fuelled by accusations of him not being committed to United but there have been incidents where his professionalism has been questioned under Erik Ten Hag. He was dropped after sleeping in and missing a team meeting. This season his manager has criticised him for holding a birthday party on the evening of the Manchester derby defeat, then he was disciplined for going to Belfast and partying before missing training through illness. “I’m a human being. I’ve made mistakes that a lot of lads in their 20s make, and I’ve tried to learn from them. But I’ve also made sacrifices that nobody sees,” he siad. “The thing that I want you to understand is that money is not what keeps you playing through the hard times. It’s the love of the game, plain and simple.”

Criticism fuelling him 
Rashford gives very little away when he talks publicly. He can appear distant. He looked like one of the most driven players in the Premier League last season and says that now, with questions over his commitment, he is fuelled by the criticism levelled at him. “Part of me doesn’t mind it when people doubt me. When everyone is telling me they love me, I get suspicious,” he wrote. “I know the way the world works. I had to become a man really young. Always had to rely on myself. Whenever I’ve been in my darkest of places, and it feels like half the world is against me, I tend to go off by myself for a couple days and reset, and then I’m fine.”

Fans 
Interestingly, Rashford feeds off the energy of the fans and the way they create an atmosphere - good or bad - is clearly picked up by the players at United. City have been the dominant team in Manchester - and the Premier League - since Rashford broke into the first-team at United and he describes the period at Old Trafford as being in “transition”. “When we are winning, you are the greatest fans in the world,” he wrote. He asks for more of “that old-school positive energy” and hinted at supporters perhaps underestimating what a powerful force they can be to push the team forward. Rashford’s affinity, he writes, is perhaps because he is a fan himself and understands the rivalries with City and Liverpool. He remembers crashing into a tackle on James Milner, a friend of his, because the emotion of a derby was overwhelming.

Current squad 
This was a United team that won a trophy last season and got into the top four. This season they have dined at Europe’s top table but have hardly looked like they belong there. Rashford’s message is that they can be back there soon and the current squad of players are capable of improvement. After defeats like the Fulham one last weekend, there was talk of going into the transfer market from the manager but Rashford says there can be improvement from within.

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