Marcus Rashford and the goal celebration that is transcending football

Marcus Rashford and the goal celebration that is transcending football

Marcus Rashford is the most in-form player in the Premier Leagueif not in European football.

The Manchester United forward has scored 10 goals in as many games since returning from the World Cupalready twice as many as last season. When playing like this, he is that rarest of things: a player who can score at any momentin any manner, from anywhere.

Yet, whether it is a toe-poke from inside the six-yard box as against Manchester Citythe screamer from long range in the defeat to Arsenalor a brilliant solo run through defenders as though they are not there like against Nottingham Forest in midweek, there has been one common denominator.

Since the turn of the year, all of Rashford’s goals have been followed by the same celebration, one that had not been seen before this spurt of unstoppable form.

You know how it goes. He runs to one of the corner flags, stands still, perhaps closes his eyes, but always points his index finger to his temple.

Its first outing was after his winner away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on New Year’s Eve, the same day that he had been left out of the starting line-up by Erik ten Hag as punishment for sleeping in and turning up late for a meeting.

It has followed every goal that Rashford has scored since, from the late strikes against Bournemouth and Evertonthen twice in quick succession against Charlton Athletic and after his winner in the Manchester derby.

Like Alan Shearer’s raised hand, Gareth Bale’s ‘heart’ and Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘siu’it is becoming a trademark. The only question is: what is the reasoning behind it?

Rashford wants to keep its full meaning under wraps, preferring to keep people guessing, to the extent that he has even kept his cards close to his chest when asked about the celebration by United’s in-house media team.

Those who have suggested Rashford copied Aurelien Tchouameni’s similar celebration after his goal against England in Qatar are eagle-eyed but wrong.

Rashford’s celebration originated between him and his close friends.

It relates to Rashford shutting out the external noise that has sometimes followed him during his career, and to finding new focus.

That focus seems to have led to dazzling form and, when combined with United’s congested schedule, that form means the celebration has been viewed practically twice a week since its inception, and broadcast to millions across the globe on each occasion.

It is no surprise that it has taken on a life of its own and started to transcend the sport.

Jofra Archer, the England cricketer, adopted it after taking wickets on his return to competitive matches in South Africa’s SA20. Archer has arguably just emerged from the toughest period of his career, having spent the last 18 months sidelined through elbow and back injuries.

He was far from the first, though, and the list of copycats is growing. Tammy Abraham commented under an Instagram post of Rashford’s which depicted the celebration against Everton, then performed it after scoring an injury-time equaliser in Roma’s 2-2 draw with AC Milan that same weekend.

Danny Welbeck was the first Premier League player to mimic Rashford, pointing to his temple after scoring Brighton’s third in their 3-0 win over Liverpool this month.

Welbeck spoke with Rashford before using the celebration and performed it in the spirit of solidarity with another locally-born academy graduate, hours after United’s victory in the Manchester derby.

Then, this week, it crossed over into European football on Tuesday night when Joshua Kimmich copied 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 Southamptonflexing his muscles with the same arm for good measure.


Joelinton, finger to temple, after scoring Newcastle’s winner against Southampton in the Carabao Cup (Photo: Mike Hewitt via Getty Images)

The first player to pay homage was a more unlikely figure: Chesterfield winger Armando Dobra, who stopped stock still and pointed at 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 intriguing imitation so far, though, was that of Bukayo Saka. The Arsenal youngster mimicked Rashford, running to the same corner of the stadium, after putting his side 2-1 up at the Emirates on Sunday in a 3-2 win that heightened excitement in that part of north London.

In a fixture with a rich history of interpersonal rivalries, was this the latest frontier? Maybe, but that seems unlikely. Rashford and Saka know each other well through international duty and the pair embraced while walking out of the tunnel alongside each other before kick-off.

And, after all, who would object to Rashford celebrating his own renaissance? He has spoken about struggling to find the right ‘headspace’ last season, when he lost his England place and completed 90 minutes just once after the turn of the year.

After reaching the milestone of a century of goals for United, he opened up about that challenging period.

“I was struggling at times with more mental things,” Rashford said in October. “It wasn’t really my own performance but other things off the pitch. That’s the biggest difference from last season. Too often last season, I wasn’t in the right headspace for games.”

Rashford is far from the only player at Old Trafford enjoying a new lease of life after the misery of last season. Ten Hag said as much during the build-up to the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Readingreflecting on the greater self-belief across United’s attack when compared with earlier this season.

“The front line now also gives me a positive feeling, it’s getting stronger as well, and then they can take more benefit from each other,” the United manager said.

“In the first (part of the) season, for instance, we had many problems in the front line. Often we had games where we didn’t have players who were 100 per cent physically and mentally fit. Now that’s much more the case, and Marcus can take even more benefit from such situations.”

On Rashford specifically, Ten Hag turned down the opportunity to take credit for the revival of his player’s form and instead put it down to Rashford having far more belief in his own abilities.

“I’m not Harry Potter. It’s just confidence,” the United manager said. “Every player has to make and get his 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 though — as practically all of his team-mates have too — and the manager did not deny that.

“With my coaching staff we bring in structures, especially in the way of playing that give him routines that he needs to get into the right position,” said Ten Hag. “But finally, it’s up to him, to the player.”

(Top photo: Naomi Baker via Getty Images)

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