Sport

Diplomatic Rashford relishing ‘strange’ England reunion with McTominay

Ruling out becoming prime minister, discussing Barack Obama and leadership, professing confidence his philanthropy will one day cause societal change, and, oh, how England are scared of “no team” at Euro 2020.

Welcome to the vibrant orbit of the impressive Marcus Rashford, who 48 hours before the meeting with Scotland on Friday discourses easily on football and non-football matters in the winning style of the statesman he projects as a 23-year-old.

At Wembley Rashford, who did not start in England’s opening group win against Croatia on Sunday, hopes to line up against Scott McTominay, his Manchester United teammate and friend since they rose through the ranks together. McTominay is the midfield fulcrum of Steve Clarke’s side who, being Lancaster-born, might have chosen England ahead of the auld enemy. Asked whether Friday would be more special if McTominay were donning an England shirt, Rashford laughs.

“Yes definitely,” he says. “We’ve been lucky enough to line up together for Man United for so many years and you can’t really explain those moments [when it’s] someone that you’ve grown up with. It’s going to be strange to play against each other but at the same time I’m really proud of him.”

The feeling is mutual from McTominay, United and the nation about the off-field advocacy of Rashford, who is speaking a year and a day since his open letter to Boris Johnson which asked for him to grant free food vouchers for the poorest families. After rejecting his proposal, the prime minister did a U-turn, the first of two: last November a decision was reversed not to expand free school dinners or offer meals in holidays, greater activities to aid fitness and an increase to the healthy start scheme that supports young mothers on benefits.

It followed a petition from Rashford that attracted more than one million signatures, and his activism has been rewarded with an MBE and the respect of Obama, with whom he shared a Zoom call in May. Then Rashford was informed by the former US president that he was “way ahead of where I was” at the same age. Being reminded of this on Wednesday allowed an inquisitor to wonder whether Rashford could definitely state he would never run for Johnson’s job. “Yeah, I probably can because it’s not something I grew up wanting to do,” was the reply.

The past 12 months have revealed a self-possessed young man who is a natural leader. “You grow up with that inside you,” he says. “People always said to me that because I played at the front of the pitch, it was important to lead from the front, by example. It’s quite simple in my head because I’ve been doing that my whole life. So not much has changed in that regard.”

Rashford’s potent football talent is a cocktail of pace, skill and ever‑improving decision making. This last element has an off-field parallel in a shrewdness he admits was behind the move to ensure his letter to Boris was not private.

“It’s the first time that we opened up to the public, really,” he says. “I thought it was important this time because the issue we’re trying to tackle was so big and it’s so difficult to tackle on your own. So I had to make more people aware about it, get more people on board with helping, and take it step by step, day by day because it changes every day.”

There is a steely confidence that the social justice he campaigns for can be achieved. “Through football I’ve gained that experience of doing well and not so well and how to come back from doing not so well,” Rashford says. “I’m just trying to keep everyone calm along the journey because I understand there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs. If we stick at it then we should reach the end goal.”

When speaking of England going all the way at Euro 2020 he is as convincing. “One thing I’d say is we are not scared of any team we come up against,” he says.

“Going forward, if we are going to win the tournament we are going to have to play against the best teams in the tournament. We want to look forward to those games.”