Neil Humphreys: Rashford swaggers in the Theatre of Dreams
Striker, now given freedom and support, delights in the United way
Marcus Rashford is not so much a local boy made good as he is a good centre-forward made local. He instinctively plays the Manchester United way.
He should lead the line for the rest of the season.
The Red Devils' future belongs to the young striker because his athletic, swaggering style of play is so intrinsically linked to the club's past.
Jose Mourinho lost his job for many reasons, but his myopic treatment of Rashford must rank highly on his list of managerial misdemeanours.
He wanted an archetypal Mourinho striker, a battering ram like Romelu Lukaku, when he already had the ideal leading man for the Theatre of Dreams.
Old Trafford has incubated attack-minded showmen since the Busby Babes, and Rashford was clearly the latest to be hand-reared at the academy, but Mourinho held the kid back, like a restless greyhound caught in the traps.
As United's 2-0 win at Newcastle yesterday morning (Singapore time) proved, Solskjaer has released Rashford without compromise. There's no catch, just the freedom that every assured, gifted 21-year-old craves.
Rashford now walks like Cristiano Ronaldo towards free-kicks. The arrogance of youth and that vicious technique of pummelling the ball like a baker whacking a lump of dough; it's all there.
Some call the striking style "knuckle-ball". Others call it an erratic indulgence. But when the laces bludgeon the sweet spot, the ball swerves more times than a Brexit politician.
The shooting technique is as precise as it is difficult. A matter of millimetres separates euphoria from serious embarrassment. Rashford's "knuckle-ball" has hit the target twice in two weeks.
He scored against Cardiff City. His effort against Newcastle was saved and knocked in by Lukaku yesterday.
Rashford's form offers a neat barometer for United's progress before and after Mourinho's departure. Under his former manager, Rashford managed three goals and 11 shots on target in 14 appearances this season.
Under Solskjaer, he has racked up three goals and 10 shots on target in just four appearances.
The Norwegian deserves credit for encouraging his fullbacks to attack the flanks, evoking warm memories of Solskjaer's United sides as a player, and encouraging Rashford to face the front more.
Previously, Rashford often played as if the opposing goalkeeper was a jilted lover. He frequently found himself with his back to goal.
But he now benefits from more crosses (as Solskjaer famously did in the 1999 Champions League Final), more service and more flexibility. The striker started and finished his sublime goal against Newcastle.
Indeed, United's second goal neatly demonstrated how Rashford's improved form is more than mere numbers.
Solskjaer, like Gary Neville and Paul Scholes in their respective TV studios, do not see an inconsistent, jittery boy with a nervous trigger finger.
As Neville pointed out, Rashford is a seasoned World Cup international with almost 150 club games.
But Mourinho never got past Rashford's birth certificate. He always saw a boy, an unreliable commodity.
The manager's career was built on proven products. He favoured older, established forwards, rather than developing teenagers.
Mourinho always tried to shake off his risk-averse reputation, emphasising Rashford's healthy number of United appearances on his watch, but he rarely allowed the 21-year-old to lead the line.
Only Lukaku's isolation and loss of form forced Mourinho's hand and, even then, Rashford never enjoyed the freedom or support that he's savouring now.
Neville was effusive in his praise for Rashford yesterday because he recognises the kind of youngster that was once commonplace at Old Trafford.
Neville, like Solskjaer, Scholes and their old United teammates, see no risk in a 21-year-old spearheading the attack of the world's biggest sports franchise. They know no different. It's the United way.
Instead, they see a rare talent whose dodgy decision-making at times is easily offset with a level of speed, mobility and directness that cannot be taught on the training ground.
Besides, Rashford's decision-making is also improving, as his cool finish amply demonstrated. With the ball at his feet and everyone inside St James' Park on theirs, he didn't panic.
He didn't shoot. Instead, he took a touch.
He opened up his body, increased the target area and slid the ball home, winning the approval of Solskjaer and TV pundit Michael Owen. They recognised a kindred spirit. The kid's developing a killer finish.
Comparisons to Solskjaer, Owen and Ronaldo might be a little fanciful at this stage, but they also miss the point. Marcus Rashford is simply being allowed to play like Marcus Rashford.
And in this regard, he looks the perfect United striker.