Champions League

Inspirational Rashford making a difference on and off the field

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Marcus Rashford and Fred (Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford and Fred (Getty Images)

Marcus Rashford's impact now stretches far beyond the football field as the Manchester United and England forward has become a global icon by taking on politicians to fight for an end to child poverty.

In the week of his 23rd birthday, Rashford scored his first career hat-trick in a 5-0 thrashing of RB Leipzig in the Champions League, gained the support of over one million signatures in a petition to try and extend free school meals during half-term holidays and inspired thousands of volunteers across the country to step into the breach when parliament did not intervene.

After his campaign forced a government U-turn over free school meals over the summer holidays, Rashford has formed a taskforce with major food suppliers, which is now helping to provide over seven million meals per week for those in need.

Rashford's message has been powerful as he went through the difficulties millions face in the economic crisis caused by coronavirus as he relied on the help of friends and neighbours during an impoverished childhood.

The determination to make a difference has proved infectious with major brands, other football clubs and players inspired by the movement.

On Monday, Rashford announced a partnership with fashion brand Burberry that will provide grants to two youth centres he attended as a child, as well as a donation to provide over 200,000 meals.

Brighton, Bradford, Luton and Yeovil were among a host of other English clubs to provide meals during half-term week.

England international teammate Reece James has set up a similar project to raise 100,000 for a London food charity by the time he turns 21 on December 8.

'The power is yours'

Following in the footsteps of NBA stars' activism on racial injustice, footballers are no longer satisfied just doing their talking on the pitch.

Empowered by millions of followers on social media, they are using their platform to positively enact change.

After a disagreement on the government's policy for hungry children Conservative MP Steve Baker tweeted: "You have 3.4m followers Marcus, to my 96k. The power is yours here."

The campaign has even managed to unite the famously partisan world of football.

Liverpool defender Andy Robertson believes once supporters are allowed to return to stadiums that Rashford may be the first Manchester United player to get a standing ovation at Anfield.

"He'd definitely deserve it because thousands of families are getting fed now," Scotland captain Robertson, who has himself been heavily involved in helping local foodbanks, told the BBC.

"He made politicians overturn the decision (over the summer holidays) because he wanted every kid to get fed."

Rashford's goal off the field is more important than any he has scored on it, but he has managed to maintain the balance of performing on the pitch with his activism off it.

His hat-trick against last season's Champions League semi-finalists Leipzig came in just 27 minutes as a second-half substitute on a rare occasion where he was given a rest by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from the start.

He also scored the winner against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes for the second time in 18 months to put United in a commanding position in what was expected to be a tough Champions League group for the Red Devils.

Victory away to Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir on Wednesday will put United on the brink of a place in the last 16 and ease the pressure on Solskjaer after a dreadful start to his side's Premier League campaign despite Rashford's goals in wins over Brighton and Newcastle.

"I have a team that work behind me and we make sure we are all on the same page," said Rashford last month on balancing his priorities.

"At the moment I feel in a good headspace, I feel comfortable doing both things. I feel ready to train every day and play the games.

"If it was taking a toll, I would have to look at a different way of doing things and find a way to support the kids and keep my career going in the right direction."

Rashford's star as a player is still rising, but he is already one of the most influential sportsmen of his generation for a battle that will take longer than 90 minutes to win. 

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Fixtures
Tue 01 Dec 20 19:55 PM (SAST)
Shakhtar Donetsk
Real Madrid
NSK Olimpijs'kyj
Tue 01 Dec 20 19:55 PM (SAST)
Lokomotiv Moskva
Salzburg
RZD Arena
Tue 01 Dec 20 22:00 PM (SAST)
Liverpool
Ajax
Anfield
Results
Wed 25 Nov 20
Bayern Munchen 3
Salzburg 1
Wed 25 Nov 20
Atletico Madrid 0
Lokomotiv Moskva 0
Wed 25 Nov 20
Internazionale 0
Real Madrid 2
Logs
Team
P
W
PTS
1. Bayern Munchen Group A
4
4
12
2. Atletico Madrid Group A
4
1
5
3. Lokomotiv Moskva Group A
4
0
3
4. Salzburg Group A
4
0
1