Let’s be honest: Did you know who Marcus Rashford was before the evening of 25 February? His goalscoring ability was highly valued at the Manchester United Academy, but not many people are bothered with youth football and at the time of his unexpected inclusion in their first team, which was to face Midtjylland in Europa League Round of 32 return game, he was virtually unknown to the general public. Within three days the Manchester-born youngster had earned himself worldwide fame, after scoring four goals in two games, helping his faltering club get going again.
The history of Manchester United has always been pretty eventful, with so many famous players, late goals and come-from-behind wins. The Old Trafford club is well known both for their expensive signings and their faith in their own youth, illustrated by the fact that at least one academy player has been a part of the matchday squad in every single competitive game since 1937.
One of the defining moments in any player’s career is the first game for their club, whether it is a senior debut or their first appearance after a transfer. On many occasions Man Utd debutants have been quick to leave their mark and become terrace heroes. Some of them have been homegrown youngsters, others expensive reinforcements. Some have gone on to have wonderful trophy-laden careers. Others have quickly slipped down the ranks and left the club.
This is our choice of Top Eleven Man Utd debut heroes:
- Charlie Sagar, 2 Sep 1905, Bristol City 5-1, 3 goals
Back in 1905, Man Utd kicked off its fourth season under their new name (after 24 years as Newton Heath), hoping to finally get back to the First Division. The Ernest Mangnall-led team had fallen short in their previous attempts, but from the very beginning it was obvious this would be their year. Their first game of the season ended in a 5-1 win over Bristol City. The club’s new signing, the England international Charlie Sagar, managed to get a hat-trick on his debut, a feat that would only be repeated once more in the club’s history until the present. Sagar was a two-time FA Cup winner at Bury, but injury cut his career short, and within two years of his wonderful debut, at the age of 29 he left United for a County League club. Still, he left a mark in club’s history, helping Manchester United to get promoted to the top tier, where it would stay for more than 15 years. Within five seasons United would win its first trophies – two leagues and one FA Cup – and move to a new stadium at Old Trafford.
- Paul Scholes, 21 Sep 1994, Port Vale 2-1, 2 goals
Before the career-defining move to central midfield in 1997 the Salford-born genius played as a striker, which limited his opportunities. He was actually NOT a member of The Class of ‘92, and it took him more than a year after signing his first senior contract to get a first competitive game. When finally thrown onto the pitch, he proved his worth, scoring both goals in the League Cup win over Port Vale. Within a week he secured his first Premier League game, scoring at Ipswich. From then on Scholes enjoyed much more playing time, but only after moving to the midfield was he able to show his talent. Hugely admired for his skill by the fans and the players alike (Zidane, Xavi and Henry are all professed fans), he went on to win 25 trophies in 718 games for Man Utd.
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 25 Aug 1996, Blackburn 2-2, 1 goal
In the summer of 1996 football came home, and the name Alan Shearer was on everyone’s lips. Sir Alex Ferguson was determined to bring England’s finest striker to Old Trafford, but after a long transfer saga Shearer decided instead to join Newcastle United, his hometown club and Man Utd’s fiercest opponents at the time. Just one day before the Magpies broke the world record in bringing the local boy home an unknown Norwegian joined United from Molde. Solskjaer’s debut came three games into the season, in a hard fought game against Blackburn, Shearer’s former club and the only rival to take the title from United in the previous four seasons. Within six minutes of arriving on the pitch Solskjaer scored his first United goal to level at 2-2, instantly becoming a crowd favourite. He spent the rest of his career at Manchester United, scoring 126 goals in 11 years. He was best known for his tendency to score late goals, including a four-goal salvo in 11 minutes at Nottingham Forest, and his most famous one, when he helped United win the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich despite being 1-0 down in the 91st minute.
- Ruud van Nistelrooy, 19 Aug 2001, Fulham 3-2, 2 goals
A childhood United fan, Ruud was a long-time target for Ferguson before finally he joined in 2001 after recovering from an ACL injury which had kept him off the field for nearly a year. The club’s record signing (19 million pounds) was quick off the mark, scoring twice in a thrilling season opener against Fulham, which ended in a 3-2 United win. He went on to score 150 goals in five years at the club, before moving to Real Madrid. Over the course of his career he became top scorer in three different countries and a three-time Champions League top scorer. His 56 goals make him the fourth-highest goalscorer in Champions League history.
- Wayne Rooney, 28 Sep 2004, Fenerbahce 6-2, 3 goals
Long before his senior debut at Everton, Wazza had been announced as the “next big thing”, and his first league goal was a late winner against the reigning champions Arsenal. At the 2004 European Championship, though only 18 he was arguably England’s best performer, and a foot injury he sustained during the competition was instrumental in their quarter-final exit. When he signed for United later that summer he was still injured, so his club debut came in late September. Right from the start he took the centre stage, scoring a wonderful hat-trick that included goals from a 20-yard strike and a direct free-kick. From then on he went from strength to strength, becoming a key player for his club and country for over a decade, and earning an undisputed place among England’s all-time greats. Rooney is currently captain for both United and England. Earlier this season he scored his 50th goal for England and thus broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s longstanding record. At the moment he’s five goals short of doing the same at club level, which is remarkable knowing that he has spent most of his career playing as either a second striker or attacking midfielder.
- Chris Eagles, 28 Apr 2007, Everton 4-2, 1 goal
The unusual thing about Eagles’ debut goal was that he even made the team at all. The Hertfordshire-born winger had actually made his debut in the League Cup in 2003, a month before his 18th birthday, but it took him three and a half years, seven cup games and four loan spells to get his first chance in the Premier League. His big opportunity came in a key game against Everton, where they came from 2-0 down to win 4-2 and all but secure their first league title in four years. Eagles was a second half sub, and his goal put the result beyond doubt. He was given few more opportunities thereafter, before being sold immediately after the team won the Champions League in 2008. He went on to have a fine career at Burnley and Bolton, twice surpassing the 10-goal-mark in a season, before dropping down to League One with Bury.
- Federico Macheda, 5 April 2009, Aston Villa 3-2, 1 goal
A football equivalent of the one-hit-wonder, Rome-born Kiko will always be remembered for his wonderful late strike which gave United a crucial win over Aston Villa, right when it started to look like the club was losing its ground in the only title race with Liverpool since the Premier League was formed. A week later the 17-year-old was on the score sheet again, finding Sunderland’s net within a minute of arriving on the pitch. United went on to win their 18th title, but Macheda’s career at the club petered out just as quickly as it had started. Over the following four years he featured in 34 club games scoring only three times. To make things worse, his multiple loan stints in England, Italy and Germany were no better, with four goals in 55 games, far below what is expected of a striker. Later on he managed to find some consistency at Birmingham, before moving to his current team, Cardiff.
- Nick Powell, 15 Sep 2012, Wigan 4-0, 1 goal
Trained since boyhood at the famous Dario Gradi Academy, Powell was 18 when he scored a wondergoal to help Crewe Alexandra win 2012 League Two play-off final. Soon after that he was surprisingly signed by Man Utd, moving up three levels in a single summer. A couple of months later he was given his debut by Sir Alex in a 4-0 win over Wigan. He scored United’s fourth of the day but sadly it turned out to be his only goal for the club, so far at least. After a promising debut season he was sent on a loan to Wigan, where he enjoyed a fine season. However, upon his return he was barely given a chance at United and his loan to Leicester didn’t go as expected. After featuring in barely six games over a 20-month stretch, he moved this year to Hull city on loan.
- James Wilson, 6 May 2014, Hull City 3-1, 2 goals
In 2014, United’s worst season in over 40 years was nearing its end, David Moyes was long gone and Ryan Giggs’ short spell as the club’s player/manager was in full swing. The season’s penultimate game was against Hull City and it turned out to be the last OT appearance for two club legends, Nemanja Vidić and Giggs himself. The hero of the day was an 18-year-old boy from Staffordshire who seized his first chance and scored a brace to lead United to a 3-1 win. In Louis Van Gaal’s first season at the club Wilson played in 18 league and cup games, but only scored twice. This season the 20-year-old has been playing on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion, and at times has been sorely missed at his injury-stricken parent club, before Rashford emerged and made the most of his opportunity.
- Anthony Martial, 12 Sep 2015, Liverpool 3-1, 1 goal
The probable future superstar followed the path of more than a few key French players of the past two decades, moving from a suburban Paris academy to Olympique Lyonnais and then on to Monaco. Even though his form in Ligue 1 and Europe had been fine for some time, Martial’s deadline day transfer raised many eyebrows in England (partly due to the 36 million pound price tag). He hardly could have done more to ease the pressure, scoring with his first ever shot in England and easing United to victory over Liverpool, before scoring three more in the next three games. By the end of the year Martial was given the Golden Boy award for the best player under 21 in Europe.
- Marcus Rashford, 25 Feb 2016, Midtjylland 5-1, 2 goals
Local boy Rashford has long been touted as a future star, but his debut only came this season due to an enormous injury crisis at Old Trafford. After the designated starter Martial got hurt during the warm-up, Rashford was given the opportunity to start United’s must-win Europa League game at Danish champions Midtjylland. His two second half goals helped his team to a stunning win. Three days later he did even better on his Premier League debut, scoring two goals and assisting the third in a 3-2 win over Arsenal. By the end of the week his strong start even prompted Louis van Gaal to reconsider his transfer policy.
Did we miss a debut hero or two? Let us know in the Top Eleven comments section.