SAN DIEGO — Marcus Rashford has admitted there was a point last summer when he considered leaving Manchester United. The England forward scored five goals during an injury-hit campaign and United finished sixth in the Premier League, and in the process racked up a fifth straight season without a trophy. But fast-forward 12 months and things couldn’t be more different.
The 25-year-old scored a career-high 30 goals in all competitions last season — manager Erik ten Hag’s first in charge — and helped United win the Carabao Cup and secure a return to the Champions League. Happy again at Old Trafford, he signed a new five-year contract earlier this month that will keep him at the club until 2028.
In an interview with English journalists on United’s summer tour in San Diego, Rashford opens up about how close he came to leaving, Ten Hag’s influence, how much Manchester City’s treble hurt and his hopes for the future.
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ESPN: How has the tour of the United States been so far?
Rashford: It’s been good. We came back a little bit later than some of the other lads; it’s been good to meet back up with the lads and get some good work and good training in and just get back to peak fitness.
ESPN: You’re coming off your best campaign in terms of goals. What changed for you last season?
Rashford: Just a little bit more freedom I felt, a little bit more stability. I think that gives you the baseline to try and showcase your abilities. I enjoy scoring goals, I enjoy making assists, playing in the forward areas and trying to cause a threat to the other team.
ESPN: When you say freedom, what do you mean?
Rashford: Freedom; we were just a little bit rigid in the past. Sometimes you’re not enjoying your football and that was the case with me. I wasn’t enjoying my football as much as I should be, as much I was used to enjoying it. Because of that it influenced my performance and ultimately that’s how I am as a person, if I’m not happy then it’s difficult for me to play my best football.
ESPN: You got 30 goals last season. Do you think you can better than that next year?
Rashford: It’s always the purpose of your career, you want to keep improving. Sometimes it’s not always statistically but if you can improve your performance you will take it any way you can. Hopefully I can get more goals and do more, but I’ll be equally happy if we spread the goals out more and everyone gets five or six more goals and that means we’re doing better than last season.
ESPN: Do you think you can get 30 goals a season and reach the levels set by Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe?
Rashford: You do have to be consistent with it. For me it’s important I get consistent opportunities. It’s up to me to take it on. I have to keep getting in the right areas and hopefully the goals keep coming.
ESPN: Ten Hag said in New York that you’ll keep scoring goals if you have the “right attitude.” Has he said that to you privately and what does he mean?
Rashford: It’s concentration. If I’ve got the concentration, sometimes you might not have a chance all game and you get that one chance and you have to take it. If I can stay focused on that then I think I can definitely score more goals than I did last season, but I have to be in the goal-scoring positions to get the chances, that’s the main focus.
ESPN: When Bruno Fernandes signed his new contract last year he said he wanted to speak to the club first to make sure they could match his ambition for trophies. Did you have the same conversations before you signed your new deal?
Rashford: Now the conversation is a little bit different because I think it’s clear, the manager is ambitious and he has been since the minute he stepped in. I didn’t really have doubt in my mind about that. I’m hungry to keep improving and when the squad and the players and the staff keep improving and getting used to each other, pushing ourselves to be better than we were the year before, ultimately that’s the only way we’re going to get back to winning trophies consistently.
ESPN: You’re a local lad from Manchester, is it still a massive thrill to be playing for your boyhood club?
Rashford: Definitely. I don’t think the feeling ever gets old, you just want it more and more each time you score. It doesn’t get boring.
ESPN: There were suggestions last summer that there was interest from Paris Saint-Germain, was there ever a point when you thought you might have to leave?
Rashford: Before the manager came maybe a little bit, but it’s football, it happens. Everything is going to happen for a reason and he came to the club at the right time for me, the timing worked out.
ESPN: It sounds like Ten Hag has had a big impact on you.
Rashford: He always wants you to improve, whether it’s physically or mentally. For us as players it’s important he works on both sides with us and if he sees an obvious place to make improvement then he doesn’t shy away from telling it. It’s important for development and you never really stop developing throughout your career.
ESPN: Settle a debate, are you best on the left wing or at centre-forward?
Rashford: Different games require different positions for me. There’s not a huge difference in terms of where I am, it’s just the starting positions are different, there are different responsibilities. I enjoy playing in both positions, probably a little more comfortable on the left-hand side but always coming into that centre-forward and half-space positions. It’s not much of a difference, but the main thing for me is I have to be in the areas to score goals.
ESPN: As a Man United fan, how difficult was it to watch Man City win the treble last season?
Rashford: It’s not a great moment for Man United fans, but listen, they’re a good team, credit to them, they deserved to win the Champions League final and they beat us in the FA Cup final. They’re a good team, if you let them get in those positions they’re going to win trophies.
ESPN: How close are you to challenging Man City for the Premier League title?
Rashford: I think consistency is the key. We’ve shown in one-off games we can beat them, they’ve shown they can beat us. It’s the consistency that sets them apart. I think the average points to win the league at the minute is 96; it’s a huge difference to what it was a few years ago, when 86 to 90 points could potentially win you the league. They’ve shown a new level of consistency and it’s up to the rest of us to try and close that gap.
ESPN: United made progress last season and strengthened the squad this summer, how excited are you for the new campaign?
Rashford: It’s going to be interesting. We know we’re a strong team and as players you’re ambitious anyway, you’re going to try and win every game and win the league, there’s definitely that aim. It’s the focus and we want to [fix] the little mistakes we made that made us drop points, you’re looking at a 15-point gap to the top of the league. We can easily pick off five games where we dropped three points, it’s about correcting those mistakes.