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A poke in the eye for poverty, and a lesson for Leipzig

Manchester United v RB Leipzig: Group H - UEFA Champions League
Which will it be first for Marcus Rashford? A sainthood, or a knighthood?
Photo by Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

He can do absolutely no wrong at the moment.

Twenty-two year-old Marcus Rashford scored his first senior hat-trick and saw his petition to the government for provision of free school meals, to impoverished children, reach a million signatures, all on the same day.

After the game in which he blasted Red Bull Leipzig away, Rashford tweeted -

It was neither a good day for the German club nor UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose Conservative government last week rejected the opposition Labour Party’s motion to extend free school meals, to needy children, over the school holidays in England, to Easter 2021

Rashford took to twitter and his campaign quickly attracted a groundswell of support. Johnson has responded by saying he was, “... very proud of the support we have given,” pointing out that the government was supporting families with a social security increase of £20 ($25) a week.

“We don’t want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas, certainly not as a result of any inattention by this government — and you are not going to see that,” said the Prime Minister.

But it would appear the government has already lost the PR battle.

Even if party politics cannot remove its barriers to find consensus, the normally volatile and tribal world of English football has united behind the striker.

Leeds United, bitter rivals of Rashford’s own club donated thousands of pounds this week to the player’s campaign, pledging to stand ‘united’ to help feed vulnerable children.

Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool, another near neighbour and intense rival of Rashford’s Manchester United team, described the player’s campaign as “absolutely incredible.”

“He plays for United, which makes it really tricky,” Klopp told reporters this week. “But in these moments we are, as footballers and as human beings, always united.”

Everton v Liverpool - Premier League
“Absolutely incredible,” - Klopp.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

United themselves plan to distribute 5,000 cooked meals to local schoolchildren this week.
Many other football clubs, as well as teams of other sports, including England Rugby, have come out in support of Rashford’s End Child Food Poverty campaign.

His campaign couldn’t have received a greater boost yesterday than Rashford emerging from the bench with half an hour remaining, and rifling home an irresistible hat-trick in 16 second-half minutes.

Not only did it make nonsense of some general consensus that Rashford is not a natural finisher, but it tilted the game emphatically in United’s favour. Before his explosive introduction the Red Devils held the slenderest of leads and Leipzig most of the possession. That all changed though when our hero emerged.

At 3-0 up and needing one more for a first-ever hat-trick, Rashford again displayed his unselfishness, by handing the ball to Anthony Martial, a player struggling for goals this season, to score from the penalty-spot.

Asked if there had been a discussion, Rashford said: “A little bit, a little bit. I feel confident with Anthony taking them as well. So no problem.”

But Rashford would still have his moment. With Leipzig by now in tatters, the hat-trick duly arrived, through another powerfully stunning finish. It had been a wonderful masterclass of centre-forward play, Rashford becoming only the second Manchester United player ever to score a hat-trick after emerging from the bench. The other was his manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who had praise for his young striker...

“Marcus has showed he can keep focusing on what’s important on and off the pitch at the moment. He did really well today coming off the bench.”

Manchester United v RB Leipzig: Group H - UEFA Champions League
Marcus Rashford blasts home his second and his side’s third goal against RB Leipzig, and United eventually ran out 5-0 victors,
Photo by Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

If there was a downside to the occasion, it was the lack of acclaim from a packed stadium which the young man richly deserved. Sadly all three Rashford strikes came in front of a deserted Stretford End decorated only by flags and banners. There were no fans to raise their hands in celebration.

Rashford had to make do with a few pats on the back from appreciative team-mates and the match ball.

Normally on such a night Old Trafford would’ve been bouncing in homage to an irresistible cameo performance and the return of Champions League football to the red half of Manchester.