Marcus Rashford used to love embarrassing his coaches by honing his nutmegging skills on the adults even as a five-year-old.
According to his first coach at Fletcher Moss Rangers, Dave Horrocks, the England and Manchester United forward had the trick in his locker even as a youngster and took great delight in deploying against the people who were teaching him the game.
Horrocks said there was no arrogance from Rashford and he was just driven by the sheer joy of playing, adding “the ball was his friend”.
“He came to us as a five-year-old at soccer school,” Horrocks told the PA news agency.
“He was a little boy who wanted to kick a football about, have some fun and basically take the p*** out of the coaches as much as he could.
“There was a Premier League statistic recently about the number of nutmegs Marcus has done and he would do that at soccer school to the coaches.
“We’d never go out and make life particularly difficult for them but one of the challenges was ‘Who can you nutmeg – but you have to call it’. He would do it to anyone on the pitch.
“It’s great when you have a kid who has so much love for football and rises to the challenge as a five or six year-old and he goes away giggling because he has ‘megged you.
“He just loved to have the football. The days I would take him to the Cliff (Manchester United’s former youth team facility) and drive him home he would be asleep by the time we’d got out of the car park.
“We’d pull into his street and he’d dash out of the car and while I was talking to Mel (mum) and Dwain (elder brother) he’d come out with a different set of clothes on and be kicking the ball about with his mates in the street. The ball was his friend.”
Trickery with the ball was not his only talent and Horrocks said the electrifying speed he displays now was present from the very start and was a potent weapon in youth football.
“Pace. Phenomenal pace – he could catch pigeons,” was his recollection.
“That is something that stands out with kids; they miscontrol it and in the blink of an eye they get it back again as they are blessed with natural pace.”
But Horrocks believes Rashford also learned some important life lessons during his time at Fletcher Moss and took those into his later career.
The 23-year-old was awarded an MBE last year in recognition of his services to vulnerable children after championing free school meals, but he has also turned his attention to literacy and homelessness in Manchester.
“I truly believe if kids, no matter what they are doing, sat at a piano or in a classroom, have a smile on their face then they are going to learn and become nicer people,” Horrocks said.
“Look what he has done since then with all this social stuff: school meals and books.
“He’s taken what he learned on the soccer school pitches into that as he wants to put a smile on kids’ faces.
“There are a lot of people who have a great deal of influence in how Marcus has developed. There are a lot of things that have gone on but it is about smiles on faces.”
One of the biggest smiles Horrocks saw was when a six-year-old Rashford won one of his first trophies.
“We had our presentation day and we were waiting for Marcus’ team to turn up and I phoned the coach and he said ‘We’re in the semi-finals’,” he explained.
“About three-quarters of an hour later the place erupted as Marcus walked through the door with the winning trophy above his head with all the team behind him and everyone in the room cheering.
“He’ll probably not remember it because it’s nearly 20 years ago now but I still get emotional thinking about it.”