To the world watching outside, Marcus Rashford's Europa League brace against Midtjylland in February 2016 was the beginning of the teenager’s mesmeric rise. Having since become a regular for Manchester United and England, the 19-year-old has a story often spoken of as having its origins in that cold evening at Old Trafford, when Anthony Martial’s hamstring tightened during the warm-up shortly before kick-off.
But to those who had seen Rashford prior to that statement performance, it didn't come entirely as a surprise. A local Wythenshawe product and one-time member of the same Fletcher Moss Rangers youth team as the likes of Danny Welbeck and Wes Brown, he quickly became regarded as one to watch during his early years and was first invited to join United’s youth scheme at just eight years of age.
"He joined us aged eight, and he’d been playing in the street with his mates, playing constantly," former United under-18s manager Paul McGuinness explained to the Manchester Evening News. "He carried on, even though he was at United. We didn’t stop him!
"He’d play with Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison [seniors by a full five years], it was 13-a-side and looked like a scramble, so you had to have the quick-witted skills and the techniques to survive. You had the future world’s most expensive footballer playing with you when you were 12, doing tricks, flicking it over heads, one-twos, drag-backs, the things he does now.
"Marcus was a privileged spectator, right next to Pogba on the pitch, learning by osmosis."
Rashford’s temperament, just as today, was something that really stood out for many who followed and aided his progress.
"Marcus is such a confident young man who has taken everything that we try to teach the boys and girls here and put it on the greatest stage in the world," David Horrocks, the academy development officer at Fletcher Moss, told BBC Sport.
"You can never have a crystal ball but as far as Marcus is concerned, yes — you can see things, especially when he scores 12 goals in a 20-goal game. Marcus was a very shy kid, nothing flamboyant about him, not cocky or anything like that. He was just a lovely kid."
It was a foreshadowing of what was to come that in 2013-14 he was fast-tracked into the United under-18s side under McGuinness despite still being eligible for the U16 team. To begin with he found himself playing on the wing or in wide forward positions, with McGuinness keen to make the most of his ability in the channels.
He continued to build his reputation by starring for the under-19s during their truncated UEFA Youth League involvement in 2015-16, scoring twice in a particularly impressive 3-0 victory away to PSV Eindhoven to open the group campaign. Only destiny would ensure that it wouldn’t be his most notable impact on the European stage that season.
But at the beginning of 2016, a first-team call looked to be the last thing on the cards for Rashford. Wayne Rooney had rediscovered his scoring touch, netting seven goals in seven games to begin the calendar year, while Anthony Martial was making a real statement in his first season at the club. Elsewhere, Will Keane had been recalled from a loan spell at Preston to add to the striker stocks, scoring 10 goals in his first six appearances back in the under-21s.
While all this was happening Rashford’s form was somewhat hit and miss. Although he was beginning to find himself called into the reserve ranks due to the depleted numbers being run up by manager Louis van Gaal, he found the net only three times — once from the penalty spot — in 15 matches during the three months prior to his first-team debut.
But then an injury crisis struck, with Rooney playing on to the end of a 2-1 loss at Sunderland with a knee injury and then Keane damaging his groin moments into a substitute appearance in the FA Cup win at Shrewsbury.
The injuries meant Rashford was making his way up the system all of a sudden, and he was named on the bench for the home leg of the Europa League tie against Midtjylland just 10 days after making his first-ever start at reserve-team level in a narrow win over Reading. His sole 90-minute appearance in Warren Joyce’s reserve side came as a No. 10 the Saturday before his surprise first-team bow against Midtjylland, and United great Lou Macari remembers that the second-string derby outing didn’t exactly go to plan for the young front man.
"This is a kid who wasn’t a regular in the reserves and I remember the week before he made his debut here he had a bit of a stinker in the game I did for MUTV," he explains. "So when he came in and scored the goals [against Midtjylland] I was thinking, 'Is it one of those flashes in the pan?'"
Speaking to Goal, treble-winning United striker Dwight Yorke explains that it can often be when you least expect an opportunity that the chance to shine comes along.
"Sometimes you just look for a little break and even though you think that you might not have a look-in you come up to the first team and suddenly you’ve got another level to go to," says Yorke.
"Rashford has done that, and I think he’s a quality player. I have no doubt that he will be a fantastic player for us and he’ll probably go on to break a number of records because he’s got the attributes. He’s got the pace, he’s got the desire. I saw him training in the gym two weeks before the pre-season tour, and that tells me that he’s got the right attitude."
Andy Cole tells Goal that Rashford’s response to United’s need to fast-track him in is an example for any young footballer to follow.
"I don’t think anything was expected of him. We’ve got to be very honest here, he was chucked in at the deep end when the injury crisis up front was such that there was no one else to go with," says the former goal-getter. "But the way he’s addressed it is absolutely fantastic, he’s been a revelation. I think any young players, especially at Manchester United, will look at that and say ‘If I get an opportunity I’d like to take it just like him'."
Another prolific United front-man, Ruud van Nistelrooy, adds that such a quick accession into an otherwise-faltering squad makes his progress over the last 18 months even more remarkable.
"He’s done spectacularly well, Rashford, as a young lad coming in to a team that didn’t score that many goals,” he explains to Goal. “He’s done brilliantly, so I think the development he’s gone through means he will only get better now.”
It was his ability to take everything in his stride that made Rashford such an overnight success, and that same temperament and humility is something which shines through to many ex-United stars. To former midfielder and now the head of United’s academy Nicky Butt, it is a principle by which all the club’s players should be measured.
As he explained at the club’s Player of the Year ceremony in May 2017: "I was sat down earlier and I saw Axel Tuanzebe, I saw Marcus, I saw Jesse, I saw Paul Pogba all walk past and shake some staff members’ hands, all the people that were at the school with them.
"And that’s the most important thing for me, that they are good people. Because it’s really easy to get good players to come to Man Utd because it’s the biggest club in the world, all the best players want to come here. But when you get good boys like this who look after you and they’re still good human beings, I think that’s the most important thing."
Since his breakthrough there has been huge debate as to where Rashford should be played. Despite playing all across the front line during his youth-team days, many have claimed he is being misused as a wide player by manager Jose Mourinho. But Cole believes that he will only become a better player due to such versatility.
"What’s Marcus, 19? He’s nowhere near the peak of his powers now, I think we all know that and appreciate that. Just to watch him improve week-in, week-out, and just to watch him learn off the other boys, I think he will get his opportunity at centre forward when the time is right, but to learn a little bit off the left and every now and then he might come off the right, I think that adds strings to your bow."
Yorke, who himself broke through as a more versatile forward with Aston Villa, concurs.
"That’s the thing, we all started at some stage when we came into these big occasions and he’s blossomed in his own right. People tend to forget that he’s still only 19 years of age, and he will learn.
"He probably ideally wants to play centre forward but we all started off at left wing or right wing and you kind of develop your trade and you learn from that. Eventually he will no doubt be the number one striker at Manchester United Football Club for a number of years to come.
"He’s come from a humble background and he appreciates where he is and understands clearly that this is just the beginning. With all the hype he just needs to continue to work and keep his feet on the ground, and continue to produce the goods like he has been doing."
The humble boy from Wythenshawe has become one of the most raved-about figures in English football. But the lad who tested his technique against much older stars, then took his chance when he least expected it, has the backing of everyone at Manchester United to go on and become a true great.