'Who is this kid?' – Smalling reveals moment Man Utd stars took notice of Rashford in 2016 training match

The centre-back has recalled how a practice match between the Red Devils’ first team and youth players saw the England forward impress

Manchester United centre-back Chris Smalling has recounted how a young Marcus Rashford burst onto the first-team scene back in 2016, recalling his impact in a training match. 

Rashford, who has just signed a new contract keeping him at Old Trafford until 2023, made his debut for the club in a Europa League tie after then-manager Louis van Gaal attempted to deal with an injury crisis in attack.

He has gone on to make a total of 170 appearances for the Red Devils since then and Smalling can remember how his incredible pace caught the eye of the club’s first-team stars in a training game.

“Obviously, it was under Van Gaal when I first came across him,” Smalling told United’s official website. “Going through that week, a few of the strikers had got injured and then, as Louis was very confident in the youngsters, he got the youth team to come over and we played a game against them.

“I remember, one time, the ball got played in behind and I can’t remember who was playing at left-back for us but I just saw Rashy zoom down to get the ball. At that moment, everyone took notice of him.

“It was only a matter of a week or a couple of weeks after that when he made his debut and obviously hit the ground running. It was that first sprint down the wing, I think, when a lot of us were asking: ‘Who is this kid?”

His debut was marked with two goals in the Europa League round of 32 second-leg win over FC Midtjylland, making Rashford the youngest ever scorer for the club in European competition. 

And Smalling recalls that Will Keane, another young striker who had been on United’s books, would likely to have played ahead of the England international had he not picked up an injury.

“He was playing wide, well he was in that session, but they said he was a striker and he was filling in for whomever in that position,” Smalling added. 

“Will Keane was waiting for his chance as well, and picked up an injury, so that opened the door for Rashy. It was obviously that pace that first alerted us but I know now, as I’ve been playing with him for so long, that he’s got everything. He is a special talent.

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“I think he almost took it all in his stride. You could tell he was a confident kid. You need to be at this club, I think, and to be a No.9 as well. You could tell he wasn’t fazed, coming up to the first team and being really thrown in, as you could see he was a special talent. The manager at the time knew that and put him straight in.

“He didn’t play much for the Reserves as he skipped that stage. But we saw a lot of the youth-team games because of the fact they’re on MUTV. Quite often, when we’re training inside, and getting stretched, it will be on the screen so we do keep up to date with the youth-team games.

“At that time, we had quite a few young players. Not as young as Rashy but a lot of them knew him already and that helps coming into the environment so it’s not totally daunting getting to know 25 players. The fact a lot of other players had come through the Academy as well definitely helped him.”

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