Marcus Rashford: Ronaldo is my hero, as a kid I saw him destroy Manchester United
Marcus Rashford was only five-years-old when he sat in the Old Trafford stands for the first time and watched one of Brazil’s greatest-ever strikers smash a hat-trick against Manchester United.
Ronaldo’s treble secured Real Madrid’s passage into the 2003 Champions League semi-finals, despite the fact United won 4-3 on the night, but something from that game stuck with Rashford and his family.
Rashford’s older brother Dwaine made Ronaldo his favourite player and the siblings grew up searching for YouTube clips of all his best goals and most memorable games.
The hours spent studying the online films must have paid off, as Ronaldo claimed that Rashford reminded him of a younger version of himself in the build up to last summer’s European Championships.
“I used to watch a lot of him growing up, all of his games,” said Rashford. “He was obviously a top player who won a lot of things in his career, so when you know he's saying good things about you then it really stands out.
“I watched all those clips on YouTube and my first-ever game that I saw live, he was playing in it. It was at Old Trafford and I always remember it. It was in 2003. He scored a hat-trick. I was only young though. I was five. He was my brother's favourite player, that's why I've grown up watching so much of him and his games.
“He always played free. No matter where he was playing, he played free and went out there and expressed himself. When you do that, that's when you play your best football.”
Rashford admits that Ronaldo was one of the players he used to try to emulate when he was growing up and the 20-year-old has the perfect chance to prove that some of the Samba flair rubbed off on him in Tuesday night’s Wembley friendly against Brazil.
Speaking about Rashford last year, Ronaldo said: “He’s a very good young player. I see some of myself in him for sure - he has courage and he’s fast and is very good with the ball.
“I think for the strikers they have to be hungry to score and I see that with him. He has an amazing future.”
Asked whether or not he tried to model himself on Ronaldo, Rashford replied: “I think you do that naturally. When you're young you watch clips of the best players in the world and try to emulate them, so it just tends to happen naturally.”
Ronaldo was 21 when he took the 1998 World Cup by storm, scoring four goals and making three assists before Brazil lost 3-0 to hosts France in the final. Rashford will still be 20, when England travel to Russia for next summer’s World Cup.
“I think we are all massively excited about the World Cup,” said Rashford. “The games we have got building up to it now are going to be important for us.”
Other than watching Ronaldo closely since he was a child, Rashford met another Brazilian legend, Ronaldinho, this summer.
“He was in a Nike complex where we were doing some training and he had some commercial stuff to do,” said Rashford. “He's a really nice guy and obviously had a fantastic career.
“He was also a top, top player. Those sorts of players are rare, but Brazil had two of them – Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Who doesn't enjoy watching the type of football Brazil play? When they're at their best it’s unbelievable football to watch.”
Ronaldinho played in Brazil’s last game at Wembley in 2013, when goals from Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard secured a 2-1 victory for Roy Hodgson’s England.
Rashford could start against Brazil on Tuesday night after only playing 30 minutes as a substitute in the draw with Germany. England manager Gareth Southgate changed to a front two for Friday night’s game and the United youngster enjoys playing with a partner.
“It's a bit different and, like anything new, it takes a bit of getting used to,” said Rashford, who has scored twice in 14 appearances for England. “But the more we do it the better we'll become at it, so it's just about familiarising ourselves with positions and our responsibilities.”
Rashford has largely played on the left side of a front three for England, but added: “Playing in a two is easier. It's just about understanding each other's games and building those relationships, which you can do off the pitch as well. So I think the more we do it, the easier it will be.”