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03 Dec 2020 352

Marcus Rashford’s coaches announced as winners of top coaching award

The coaches of England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford MBE have won The Coaching Chain award at this year’s UK Coaching Awards, which took place virtually on Thursday, 3 December.

Rashford’s chain of coaches have been recognised for the great contributions they have made on his journey to success. The award signifies and celebrates the importance of progressive person-centred coaching and the continuous dedicated support and time invested in him throughout their careers.

The 23 year-old from Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester has been a fantastic performer for the Red Devils since making his first-team debut aged 18.

This year, after campaigning successfully to persuade the Government to extend free school meal vouchers during the summer holidays; receiving an MBE from the Queen for his services to vulnerable children during COVID-19; and attracting a million signatures on his petition to end child food poverty, we were duly reminded of his razor-sharp striking ability when he disposed of RB Leipzig in the Champions League with his first senior hat-trick for United.

The coaches and mentors behind the growth and development of Britain’s man-of-the-moment are Colin Little, Dave Bushell, David Horrocks, Eamon Mulvey, Louis van Gaal, Maria Kelly, Neil Harris, Paul McGuinness, Stuart Leicester, Tarun Kapur and Tony Whelan.

Rashford, said:

I have worked with so many amazing coaches and staff throughout my time in the academy, every single one of them has had an impact on the player and person that I am today. These people really deserve more recognition for the hard work that goes into ensuring young players are enjoying their experiences and are reaching their potential both on and off the pitch.


"It’s a massive step up to get into the first team at this club, but it is one that academy players are always ready to take because of the way in which they are coached from a young age. I’ll always be grateful to everyone involved in moulding me into a Manchester United player, as well as a Manchester United person.”

“Be your best whether you’re playing football or not”

Beginning his footballing journey at the age of five with Fletcher Moss Rangers, one of Manchester’s highly regarded junior clubs, Rashford was carefully nurtured by coaches like David Horrocks (now the club chairman), whose coaching ethos was based on children having fun, making new friends and understanding the value of being your best whether you’re playing football or not.

Horrocks, said:

Every journey starts with a single step and I suppose in a sense Marcus’s first step was at Fletcher Moss Rangers soccer school on a Saturday morning, which is a nice thought to have.

“When we had little matches with the coaches at the end of training, we would encourage [the children] to try and drop a shoulder or nutmeg [someone]. Nine times out of 10, [Marcus] would do it to me and there’s one occasion that he tells, that he did one of the coaches from the halfway line. It’s great for him to have that sort of a memory.

“It’s not a one-man band. Without the lads and girls who help at the soccer school, and have helped out throughout the years, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we do. The likes of [Football Secretary] Ron Jamieson; without his ideas for me to implement, we would never have got as far as we have. It is just really special to be mentioned in something like this, but it’s not me, it’s the whole organisation [that’s contributed to Marcus’s success].”

At the age of seven Rashford progressed into Manchester United’s academy and came under the tutelage of Head of Coach and Player Development (9-13) Eamon Mulvey. The 47-year-old got into coaching after his professional football career was thwarted by a run of injuries. Feeling like it was the second-best thing to playing, Mulvey set about sharing his coaching philosophy, in schools, at Manchester City and, for the last 20 years, United – a club that is steeped in providing opportunities and challenges for players to develop their leadership and life skills.

Mulvey, said:

For me, [Marcus’s mum] Mel, [brother] Dwaine and the family were providing the same support and messages as we were. At the end of the day, Marcus has choices and he’s making choices that are absolutely tremendous. We always ask the players to be the best on the pitch and off the pitch. It’s a warm feeling to watch him, and to keep grounded on top of what he’s doing; we’re just so proud of him.

“It’s nice for these awards to come out but our reward as coaches is to help him wherever we can and see him develop into such a wonderful young man.”

Theatre of Dreams

From there he received further wisdom and expertise from academy coaches Stuart Leicester, Colin Little, Neil Harris, Paul McGuinness and Tony Whelan. In February 2016, a series of first-team injuries meant Rashford got the nod from then manager Louis van Gaal, making his debut at Old Trafford against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League. He scored twice in their 5-1 victory and three days later marked his Premier League debut with another brace to help United beat long-time rivals Arsenal.

Whelan, who is Manchester United Academy’s programme adviser, was recently awarded the Eamonn Dolan award by the Premier League for his outstanding contribution to youth coaching. After retiring from professional football – with stints at Manchester United, Manchester City, Rochdale and over in the States – the 67 year-old got into social work, helping young people in Manchester for 15 years. Whelan says it became natural for him to engage with young people on their lives, careers and aspirations. United legends Brian Kidd and Nobby Stiles then brought him back to Old Trafford in 1990, where he’s been working across a myriad of coaching and mentoring roles ever since.

Whelan, said:

It’s important for us as coaches to try and develop young players who have got a social conscience, to be aware that they’re in a privileged position. They’re in an environment where they can express themselves not only as an athlete but as a person.

“[Marcus] was always a wonderful young human being. Working hard for him was just natural. He came from a working-class background and a lot of the more negative things he has experienced in his lifetime, in his childhood certainly, he’s not forgotten and he’s done something about it. That’s what’s wonderful. He was always going to be a good player. But he was also very hardworking and very intelligent; he had an emotional intelligence that belied his years.

“I feel privileged to have crossed his path. I don’t take any credit for any of his achievements in terms of what he’s done – it’s just extraordinary. For me, and I’m sure the other people in this chain, on his life’s journey he happened to bump into us and what a privilege and honour that has been. If it was felt that I helped him keep his love of the game burning when he crossed my path, I would be deeply humbled by that.”

Of course, pastoral care also played a pivotal role in laying the foundations for future success and Rashford received that in droves from Academy Player Liaison Officer Dave Bushell, at Ashton on Mersey, his school, and from his host family, Maria Kelly, who he lived with from the age of 12 to 17 whilst he was an academy player.

“I’m incredibly proud that he didn’t give up”

Kelly, who is originally from Kent, saw that the academy was looking for host families to look after players in a newspaper advert. She replied to the request, thinking it would only be for a couple of years. After nearly 17, she’s still looking after them. She said:

I absolutely love what I do, and I love the fact that all the boys over the years have stayed in touch. I’m a bit overwhelmed [to win an award]. I keep thinking somebody’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say ‘that’s not for you, that’s for someone else’ because I just do what I do.

“I’m incredibly proud of [Marcus]; I’m proud of them all. I always want them to make the first team and he’s gone on to achieve more than anyone could have ever imagined and it’s amazing. I find it hard when his critics kick in because they don’t know his journey. There were a few years where he struggled, he didn’t grow at the same rate as the other kids, so he was the little one and there were lots of questions [about him]. I’m incredibly proud that he didn’t give up; he kept going and he’s made such a positive impact on so many people’s lives.”

The Dean Trust, of which Ashton on Mersey is the founding school, is headed up by Chief Executive Tarun Kapur. He said:

“Naturally, it’s quite nice to be recognised and somebody to say, ‘you know what, you guys are doing a good job’. We’ve got a great reputation of working with [Manchester United], developing players and Marcus is a real star at the moment; he’s gaining awards, he’s gaining recognition; his MBE, which is fantastic. And to be a small part of it is great but it’s great for the whole of our team.” 

UK Coaching’s Chair Atholl Duncan, said:

Many congratulations to everyone named as part of Marcus’s coaching chain, and the many other coaches, mentors and guardians who have helped shape this young man’s life. His contribution to sport and society is humbling.  A young man who is not content with scaling the heights in his professional sport but a young man who also wants to make the world a better place for those less fortunate than him.

“When we think of superstar athletes, we often see them as the finished article. Let’s not forget that many hands have crafted them with care, patience and diligence. With this award, we honour the superb team work of coaches from Fletcher Moss Rangers and Manchester United, as well as the pastoral care he received at his school and with Maria. They all have crucially supported his development as a person and a player.

“You must understand people as individuals, not just athletes or commodities, to get the best out of them from a performance perspective. Coaches must also help young people find their voice in life. Marcus’s chain has done just that. They all should be incredibly proud of their role in making Marcus Rashford the outstanding individual he is today.”

The Coaching Chain category has become one of the real highlights of the UK Coaching Awards. Recent winners have included the coaches behind Cricket World Cup winner Ben Stokes, Olympic sailing gold medallist Hannah Mills, Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, Scotland rugby union full-back Stuart Hogg and Olympic hockey gold medallist Kate Richardson-Walsh.

The UK Coaching Awards showcases the diverse work of coaches, projects and organisations, making a huge difference to the health and happiness of the nation – especially against the backdrop of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Find out more about the awards and this year’s winners by heading to ukcoaching.org/coachingawards.