Marcus Rashford and Yuvraj Singh
MUMBAI: How fond are India’s cricketers about soccer can be seen in the way they play football during their practice sessions. It was, therefore, not surprising that India’s retired batting star Yuvraj Singh, who confessed that he’s an ardent Manchester United fan, wore the iconic club’s jersey as he connected for a chat on Sony Ten Pit Stop, on the channel’s Facebook page, with Man United’s star striker, Marcus Rashford, on Saturday evening.
“I’ve been following Man United for the last 20-22 years. There was Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, (Cristiano) Ronaldo came in as an 18-year-old. When I see Marcus’ pace with the ball, I somehow get reminded of Ronaldo. He’s someone who definitely has the caliber to reach that level,” complimented Yuvraj, hero of India’s 2011 World Cup triumph.
Yuvraj narrated an interesting story about watching an EPL game at Arsenal’s home stadium in 2012 as a Man United fan. “I’ve been to Old Trafford in 2007. I watched them in a game against Wigan where Man United won 2-1. In 2012, we went to the Emirates Stadium in Arsenal wearing Man United scarves. Obviously, we couldn’t sit with the Arsenal fans. We beat them 2-1 in that game. While we were coming out, the Arsenal fans were really angry. So, I put mine and my friend’s scarves in my jacket. There were a few Indian fans there, and they were like: ‘Hey Yuvraj, we hope you’re supporting Arsenal. I just kept a straight face and didn’t say anything. Then that fan said: you know, you’ve put on a lot of weight! I just didn’t say anything. I was just still! I just took a train and went back, didn’t want any trouble and got bashed up there!”
Speaking from Manchester, Rashford admitted that he was used to being compared to Ronaldo. “You just feel great that people appreciate the fact that you may not be there but you’ve the potential to get there. About young players comparisons with great players, it’s just about being the best you can be. That’s why I believe that the generation of footballers keeps moving forward because the younger kids get smarter. Maybe, growing up 20 years ago is different to growing up in the sport now. When I went to the first team, I was like a sponge, soaking up information from all the more experienced and better players. It’s about trying to learn from them and putting it to use. That’ll make you become your own player, your own identity and your own style. ” said the teenage striker. “I used to watch good forwards from a young age., as I got older, I started to appreciate players like (Paul ) Scholes and Giggs when he ran a bit deeper. You start appreciating the whole idea of football more as you mature more. It’s just not about people scoring the goals. That’s what I enjoy the most about football. It’s a team sport. It’s definitely exciting to be involved in.”
Yuvraj reminded Rashford that he had a ‘special history’ with English sportspersons, having smacked Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over during the 2007 World T20 in South Africa. “I’m not sure if Marcus knows about it. He was probably eight years old back then,” he said.
With EPL set to begin from June 17, Rashford is gearing up after enduring a wearing lockdown. “I’ve been training now for (the last) two-three weeks. It’s important to get the fitness levels back up. You want to feel good again going into a game. I’m definitely at that stage now. I’m just excited for the games to start again. It’s a little disappointing that there’s going to be no fans (in the stadiums), but at least they can see the matches on TV and people can start to enjoy the sport again. Football is a game which puts smiles on people’s faces, and that’s what makes the game so great. We feel happy to play again,” said the 22-year-old.
“I just want to tell Marcus that fans are always behind you, whether at the stadium or at home. We’ve always got your back. United’s always in the heart,” said Yuvraj.
“I want to ask you Marcus, every time you take a penalty, what do you feel like inside, because there was so much scrutiny, pressure on our players every time we represented India,” quizzed Yuvraj. “Growing up at Manchester United, from the time I was 9, I’ve seen that every single team wants to beat Man United. So, we’ve been dealing with that pressure from that age,” Rashford replied.
“I remember that it gets to a stage where you don’t feel the pressure. You feel like that’s where you want to be. You just want to enjoy it. That’s why I’ve always said that when you’re happy and you play with that positive energy, you play your best football. It’s nothing technical. It’s that feeling you bring to the squad of enthusiasm and happiness. Yes, I seem to play my best when I’m in those situations. The pressure comes from yourself. You’ve got expectations from yourself to play as well as you can to help your team win the game. That’s why when there’s a pressure situation, it doesn’t really matter, because the pressure is already on yourself from your own expectations to come out on top. I just feel like I’m supposed to be there,” Rashford added.
Recalling his first goal for Man United, Rashford said: “It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s very difficult to recreate. It was just atap in, but you never get that same feeling than what I had in my first game. I think this is what makes debuts special. You can do something a thousand times, but the first time is going to be more special. I remember that leading up to the game, I was just so happy to be involved with the first team. Once it became clear that I was playing, it just happened, and you know, you’re on the ball. After the ball struck the back of the net, I remember celebrating. It was just crazy to see so many familiar faces in the crowd. I didn’t know that, because I was just concentrating on the game. It was a surreal moment.”
Yuvraj informed Rashford that his friend, English cricket star Kevin Pietersen, is a “Chelsea fan.” “When I told him that I was talking to you, he said I’m not interested in this chat. So, I told him that if you’re not interested in this chat, you wouldn’t be commenting on it. So, he’s definitely angry about the number of times United have beaten Chelsea in the last season. And if he’s watching right now, he’ll definitely speak about that free kick you scored against Chelsea. I think that’s one of the best free-kicks I’ve seen in whatever football I’ve watched,” Yuvraj complimented.
Rashford insisted that Man United were hopeful of a good conclusion to the season, once it resumed after the lockdown. “That’s our mentality as a team. The fact that we’ve that mentality shows that the players belong at the club. The manager (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) is doing everything he can since he’s come in basically. He’s always tried to pick the best players in his squad. The team’s improved a lot. Credit to the manager, really for the way he’s gone about his business. Also for the way he’s conducted himself. As a club, we’ve come together a lot more…especially since his arrival. It’s about enjoyment, smiling, but also at this club, it’s about winning trophies. Hopefully, we can have a good run this year and win a trophy at the end of it. We’ve so many young players in the team. The only way to mature on the football pitch is by winning games, winning trophies and that’s how you learn. You never improve how much you need to by losing games. You’ve to get used to winning as soon as possible. And that’s something the manager always speaks to us about,” he said.
Does he look to inspire the Man United academy players? “you don’t have to necessarily speak to them to inspire them. I was there in that situation when I was younger. In their minds, they’re taking the same steps that I’m taking, so you don’t really need words to have that connection. They know that I’m always there if they need to speak to me. The biggest thing I say to them is just watch. Have that attitude and mentality where you want to learn all the time. That’s how you improve yourself. I always thought of my brain as a sponge and looked to watch and learn from the players whom I watched. If ever there was a day when I didn’t learn anything, I’ll go home and be kicking myself. So, it’s important to learn as much as you can, because before you know, you’ll be the one who’ll have to work hard for the team. You’ve got a certain amount of time to get to that level and the best way to do it is by learning as quickly as possible,” explained Rashford.
“It’s great that Marcus was talking of his time as a youngster. There are a lot of kids watching this live chat. It’s great to learn from somebody competing at his best. He’s one of the best players in the world. As Marcus said, it’s very important to watch how the greats play the game. It’s the same thing in cricket. As he said, you don’t need to inspire a young generation. When they’re with you, watching you, they’re already inspired. It’s great to have that kind of knowledge at such a young age, and provide that to the next generation,” praised ‘Yuvi.’
In his message to millions of Indian fans of Manchester United, Rashford said: “I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ for your overwhelming support. It’s important for the players to know that we’ve your support. It’ll drive us to keep going”
Yuvraj, who himself runs the ‘YouWeCan foundation’ which helps cancer patients, complimented Rashford for being a part of a campaign with fairshare that helps feed three million meals a week to vulnerable children in the UK. “Before the lockdown, I and my family were discussing what the situation would become and how it would affect some people, and how it would have affected our lives when I was younger. We knew that families were going to be affected. I’ve always believed that If you’re in a position to help people, you should never ignore that. Do your best to help people in certain situations. That’s how the conversation came about. Me and my team just started learning and researching more and more about the situation and the best way to help people,” said Rashford.