Marcus Rashford and the goal celebration that is transcending football

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. When he plays like this, he is the rarest of things: a player who can score at any moment, in any manner, from anywhere.

However, whether it’s a toe-kick from inside the six-yard box like against Manchester City, the long-range screamer in the defeat to Arsenal, or a brilliant solo run through defenders as if they weren’t there like against Nottingham Forest in Midweek, there was one common denominator.

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

You know how it goes. He runs to one of the corner flags, stands still, maybe tries to close his eyes, but always points with his white finger to his temple.

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His first outing came after his winner 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 slipping in and turning up late for a meeting.

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

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

Rashford wants 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 the celebration by United’s internal media team.

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

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

It pertains to Rashford to shut out the external noise that has occasionally followed him throughout his career, and to find new focus.

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

It’s no surprise that it took on a life of its own and began to overturn the sport.

Jofra Archer, the England cricketer, accepted this after 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 by elbow and back injuries.

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

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Danny Welbeck became 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 to Rashford before taking advantage of the celebration and doing it in a 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 grabbed it after scoring in Bayern Munich’s 1-1 draw with Cologne.

That 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 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 be honored was a more unlikely figure: Chesterfield winger Armando Dobra, who stopped camp after and pointed on his head after scoring in the National League’s 3-3 draw with West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup third round.

Perhaps the most intriguing imitation to date has been that of Bukayo Saka. The Arsenal youngster emulated 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 this part of north London.

In a fixture with a rich history of interpersonal rivalries, was this the last frontier? Maybe, 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 alongside each other before kick-off.

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

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

“I’ve struggled with more mental things at times,” Rashford said in October. “It’s not really my own performance, but other things off the pitch. This is 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 Reading, reflecting on the greater self-belief across United’s attack compared to earlier this season.

“The front line now also gives me a positive feeling, it is also getting stronger, and then they can take more advantage of each other,” said the American manager.

“In the first (part of the) season, for example, we had many problems in the front line. Often we had games where we did not have players who were 100 percent physically and mentally fit. Now this is much more the case, And Marcus can take even more advantage of such situations.

On Rashford specifically, Ten Hag refused the opportunity to take credit for his player’s revival in form and instead put it down to Rashford having 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 his own confidence. He fought for it, he invested in it.”

Rashford has undoubtedly benefited from the greater sense of structure that Ten Hag has brought to United though – as have virtually all of his team-mates – and the manager has not denied that.

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

(Top photo: Naomi Baker via Getty Images)


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