Who I Really Am

Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

I don’t normally like to respond to things said about me. It’s not in my nature. I’m an introvert. I don’t even like talking about myself, unless I really know you. So 99% of the time, I can ignore the noise. But sometimes, certain lines get crossed, and I can’t help but want people to just understand who I am as a person. 

I’m not trying to have a go at the media. I understand the game, you know what I mean? They’re not really writing about me. It’s like they’re writing about this character, “Marcus Rashford.” It can’t just be about me as a 26-year-old lad on a night out, or a lad getting a parking ticket. 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?”

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. 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.

Marcus Rashford | Who I Really Am | The Players' Tribune
John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

They want to talk about cars? Imagine being 5, 6, 7 years old and taking four different buses across town to get to training at The Cliff. That’s not an exaggeration. Ask my mum. Somebody had to take off work to go with me because nobody had a car in our family. 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. Training for hours with my mum sat there waiting for me, not knowing a thing about football, just doing it out of love. Then the same back home. Just to chase my dream of playing for United. And that’s not me moaning. Not at all. I loved every second of it. 

You know what the first thing they told us when we got to The Cliff?

“Express yourself.” 

Tony Whelan, Eamon Mulvey and Mike Glennie. Still to this day some of the best advice I ever got in football. 

People will actually think I’m weird when I start talking about what United means to me. Because if you’re not me, then I’m sure it almost sounds fake. But you have to understand, when I was young, playing for United was everything. It was out of reach for us. It was hard to get there, and even harder to stay there. I remember they used to have these five-a-side tournaments all over Manchester where every player had to pay a pound to get in. It was all ages. You had kids playing against almost grown men. I’d always be asking my mum for a pound, because if you won the whole tournament, your team got all the prize money. It was just about enough for a ticket to Old Trafford. We were so young, but we actually won it a few times. 

To me, just being there was like… It was everything. We used to stay until everyone had gone, and the stadium was nearly empty, just looking around and listening. Old Trafford really has this sound to it. It’s like a surround-sound echo, and it’s so calming to me. For a kid who moved around a lot, it’s always felt like my home. 

When something is inside you like that... It’s just inside you. Nobody put it there. It’s just there. 

Marcus Rashford | Who I Really Am | The Players' Tribune
Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I was getting a lot of attention, and we had all kinds of agents and clubs trying to pass things to the family. United still hadn’t signed me to a scholarship, and people were offering all kinds of things. A few clubs offered us life-changing money. We’ll buy the family a home, we’ll put cars in your garage. 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.” 

But they knew my dream was to play for United, so they never ever pressured me. I don’t know how many people know this, but I actually played two academy games for that one club to see how I liked it. I remember walking out of the dressing room and seeing my mum and my brothers, and they just asked me, “What do you want to do? Stay or go?” 

I said, “I want to go back to United.” 

That was it. We got back on the bus. We bet everything on ourselves – all our chips. Looking back on it now, and seeing how many amazing young players never made it to the first team, it was a huge risk. But for me, it was the only choice. I remember around that time, we had had a family meeting, and I said, “If we do make it to play for United some day, I want to be able to look you all in the eyes and say that you’ve not changed. And I want you to look me in my eyes and say I’ve not changed.” 

People think they know my family’s story, but they’re only scratching the surface. There’s a lot that people don’t know, because I don’t feel comfortable sharing it all while I’m still playing. But the struggle was real. It wasn’t a commercial. It wasn’t a movie. People say that I’m from Wythenshawe, but I had to move all over as a kid. I stayed everywhere. Hulme with my auntie. Moss Side with my nana. Chorlton with my brother for a while. Saltney Avenue in Withington. All over.

But I wouldn’t change any of it, as hard as it was, because it molded me into who I am. I’ll still run into guys from where I used to live and we’ll just start shaking our heads and laughing like, “Do you remember those days bro…….”

If you know – then you know. 

Courtesy of Marcus Rashford

You know what’s crazy? I probably shouldn’t even admit this, but I used to go back home during my first season with the United first team and play street football with my friends on my days off. That’s my culture. It’s still a part of me, and I think it’s one of the reasons I made it out. If you didn’t live it with us, then I don’t expect you to understand. 

There’s a thing my mum always used to say to me from when I was young young…..

She always said,  “Nothing is for free, Marcus.”

That wisdom wasn't about football. She didn’t tell me that just to keep me away from agents. It was about life in general. Every year that goes by, I understand it more and more. 

“Nothing’s for free.”

Money is great. It’s a blessing. But dreams are priceless. For me, even at 11 years old, playing for United was my only goal. I remember around that time, when I was still trying to get signed, Wazza and Cristiano came by to do something with all the academy lads, and I was just looking at them in awe, you know what I mean? They had a photographer there, and at the end all us kids had a chance to get a picture with them, and I remember hanging in the back away from everyone. I remember my brother saying, “Go take a picture with Wazza, bro! What are you doing???”

I said, “I don’t need a picture.”

He said, “Don’t need a picture???”

I said, “I’m going to be playing alongside them some day.” 

I think I was the only kid who didn’t get a photo. After we had turned down the money, there was just this hunger inside me. I didn’t see myself as a kid anymore. I had to grab my opportunity and change our lives, period. To be able to go on and really live that dream, as a kid from Manchester… As a kid from Hulme, Moss Side, Chorlton, Withington, Wythenshawe… If you think I would ever take that for granted, then you simply do not know me. 

Listen, the thing is, football can be a bubble. I have tried to stay a normal person. I have tried to keep my same friends. I have tried my best not to change, even when I’m on a night out or on holiday. But there’s another side to that. 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. 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. 

Marcus Rashford | Who I Really Am | The Players' Tribune
Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

We all know that this has been a club in transition the last few seasons. When we are winning, you are the greatest fans in the world, and that’s a fact. We need more of that old-school positive energy around the club. I know what that kind of atmosphere can do, because it kept me going through my worst moments. Every time I walk out onto the pitch and I hear the fans singing my name, or I look around Old Trafford before kickoff, I feel that same positive energy.

Deep down, when I look around before every kickoff, I’m still a fan. I can’t get that out of my blood. I’ll never forget the first time I ever played at Anfield, and I felt that atmosphere of United vs. Liverpool from the pitch, and I heard the whistle go and the roar of the crowd, I had so much adrenaline that I almost got sent off early in the match. I love James Milner, but I sprinted straight at him and flew in for a reckless tackle, because I just had so much emotion going through me — not as a United player, but as a United fan who just happened to be out on the pitch against Liverpool. I remember coming home and telling my family, “We need to get this under control right now. I need to find a way to take the fan part out of me, or else I’m going to get sent off every game.” 

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. 

Marcus Rashford | Who I Really Am | The Players' Tribune
Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

You know what, though? If I’m honest honest, a part of me doesn't mind it when people doubt me. When everyone is telling me they love me, I get suspicious. 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. I think it goes back to me as a kid dribbling all over the street on my own until it was so dark that I couldn’t see the ball anymore and I could hear my mum shouting for me to come home. That’s just me being an introvert, needing my space to reset. Other times, when that hasn’t worked, I’ve found someone to talk to. Sometimes that’s the way to do it. But every single time I’ve been down, physically or mentally, I always feel like that’s when I turn it around and play my best football for United and England. 

I promise you, the world has not seen the best of this United squad and these players. 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. 

If you back me, good. 

If you doubt me, even better.