How Marcus Rashford and Man Utd benefited from Sliding Doors moment… without it he'd be playing for Ipswich

A knee injury to Wayne Rooney, a late pull-out from Anthony Martial and a striker who’s "Manc born and bred" was thrust in to United’s starting line-up for the Europa League tie against Danish club Midtjylland.

Yet the local lad in question should have been Will Keane – twin brother of England defender Michael.

At five years older than Rashford, Will was on the brink of a first-team breakthrough after several loan moves.

With Louis Van Gaal’s United at least one striker short throughout that 2015-16 season, Keane had made a couple of sub appearances, yet he too was struck down by injury.

So enter Rashford – "Marcus who?" to all of us who were at Old Trafford that night – to see if United could avoid embarrassment after a 2-1 first-leg defeat in Denmark.

It was Rashford’s Sliding Doors moment.

Suddenly the 18-year-old kid who’d started that season in the youth team rather than the reserves was Manchester United’s centre forward.

Often a talented teenager coming through the ranks at a top-six club is widely whispered about before their first-team breakthrough.

Yet nobody had seen him coming.

What is a "Sliding Doors moment"?

A Sliding Doors Moment is an incident relying on chance and fate outside of your control.

The concept was the basis of 1998 rom-com "Sliding Doors", featuring Gwyneth Paltrow.

In the film, Paltrow's character sees her career and love life all hinge on whether she catches a train or not.

For Rashford it was whether he or Will Keane played that fateful game against Midtjylland.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Rashford scored twice on his first-team debut, then twice on his Premier League debut to deliver a devastating blow to Arsenal’s title hopes in a 3-2 victory.

After that he snaffled the only goal at the Etihad in his first Manchester derby.

He would go on to score on his England debut and his Champions League debut too – showcasing the supreme calmness he needed in injury-time at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night as United pulled off their miracle.

That penalty to complete an astonishing Champions League comeback against Paris St Germain was the first spot-kick Rashford ever took for United.

After a mysterious VAR call gave United their chance, Paris Saint-Germain’s experienced dark-artists tried every trick to distract him and Rashford buried it.

Again United had been in the midst of an injury crisis in Europe. Again Rashford had stepped up.

According to Solskjaer, both Rashford and Romelu Lukaku were on penalty duty on Wednesday and had been asked to fight it out between them.

Either the United boss was being disingenuous or he’d have needed to have kept schtum about that grey area, had Rashford missed.

Not that this was ever likely. Rashford doesn’t do nerves. Yet had United never suffered that injury crisis in February 2016 then who knows?

He hadn’t been earmarked for a breakthrough that season and then came Jose Mourinho – hardly a man given to blooding unproven kids – along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A year later, £75million Lukaku.

So, however talented, Rashford could have drifted – like Will Keane, currently at Ipswich on loan from Hull.

Or like the other United kid to make his debut against Midtjylland, full-back Joe Riley – now at League One strugglers Bradford City.

Rashford was always blessed with outstanding ball skills but physically, he was a late developer.

And the X factor for any striker is the ability to deliver under pressure – a quality impossible to measure until he is given a first-team opportunity.

Those two and a half years under Mourinho were not a complete wasteland.

Rashford continued to play regularly but, more often than not, on the wing – and it never felt as though the Portuguese believed in him.


His disgusted reaction when Rashford squandered a chance against Young Boys in the Champions League group stage seemed to sum up their relationship.

Yet even before he was appointed as United’s caretaker boss, Solskjaer had recognised a kindred goal-poaching spirit in Rashford.

Earlier this season he’d give the young Englishman a pep talk about rediscovering that calmness in front of goal which had given him his breakthrough in the first place.

As soon as Solskjaer took over as caretaker boss, Rashford was revitalised.

He scored the first goal of the Norwegian’s reign after just three minutes at Cardiff, then netted again against Bournemouth.

Although his magnificent assist for Paul Pogba was the highlight of that match, with United clearly discovering their joie de vivre.

Wednesday’s penalty-spot strike was Rashford’s seventh under Solskjaer, as good a run of scoring form as he’s enjoyed since those first few appearances under Van Gaal.

Yet it is Lukaku, with six goals in his last three, who is really tearing it up in front of goal – after he’d looked like being an odd man out under the new regime.

Solskjaer now faces a dilemma before Sunday’s trip to Arsenal.

Rashford and Lukaku played up front together in a switch to 4-4-2 against PSG – could he be so bold as to stick with that formation in an encounter crucial in the race for the top-four?

If not, then Lukaku, despite the physical attributes which make him an obvious centre forward, can be more effective than Rashford in wide areas.

Rashford is simply demanding to be played at centre forward.

Likewise with England, where Harry Kane is captain and master of all he surveys, Gareth Southgate must be tempted to try to accommodate both men in central areas.

Against lesser opposition, Kane and Rashford could operate as a genuine front two, with Raheem Sterling tucked in behind.

Or Kane, so effective when dropping deep, could play as the No10 behind Rashford at nine.

Southgate, like Solskjaer, stumbled upon his current job as a lucky caretaker, having suffered relegation in his previous Premier League job.

Opportunism is a crucial in top-level football. Solskjaer and Southgate both recognise that quality in Rashford.

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