Marcus Rashford has won millions of new fans beyond football this year with his formidable work tackling child poverty in the UK.
Among the Manchester United striker’s legion of new admirers is Paris St Germain and France forward Kylian Mbappe, his opposite number on Tuesday night in the Champions League.
The last time the two sides met in Paris, Rashford scored a last-minute penalty to secure an epic 3-1 victory against all the odds – and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the United job on a permanent basis.
Since then, Rashford’s profile has soared, forcing a Government U-turn on the provision of free school meals to vulnerable children, his relentless campaigning earning the 23-year-old an MBE.
Mbappe has been impressed with Rashford on and off the pitch and said he knew he was a special talent when he kept his cool under such pressure to convert the penalty that broke PSG’s hearts.
“When you take a penalty in that situation, how much practice you have put on the training ground doesn’t matter,” said Mbappe.
“It’s about confidence and he’s a player who plays with so much confidence.
“He’s one of the most dangerous forward players in England.
“Paul Pogba has spoken about how special he is – and he doesn’t talk about players in such a way often.”
Mbappe has his own charity in his native France, helping underprivileged children, and recognises a kindred spirit in Rashford.
“To tackle an issue as important as child poverty is one of the most important things that somebody can do,” said Mbappe.
“So I have full respect that he’s been doing that and trying to make a real change.
Manchester United are looking to plot their path back to the top. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already brought in Donny van de Beek but Jadon Sancho remains Manchester United’s number one target.
“I do think there is a requirement for players to use their position to make a difference in the world. We’ve been given so much and it’s important that we give back.”
They have been lauded for their work off the field, but tonight, for Rashford, 23, and Mbappe, 22, it is all about their exploits on the field, as they begin their Champions League campaigns.
Recalling their agonising 3-1 loss to United in Paris, which saw them go out on away goals after a 2-0 win at Old Trafford, Mbappe said: “What happened in previous seasons is not important anymore.
“This club has a clear ambition to win the Champions League.”
Just 58 days ago in Lisbon, PSG were beaten 1-0 in the final by Bayern Munich and Mbappe added: “Last season we came close, but close is not good enough for us anymore.
“We have some of the best players in Europe and the target is clear.”
United may have got back on track with Saturday’s 4-1 win at Newcastle but doubts remain over the consistency and reliability of Solskjaer’s side.
The Reds have conceded 12 goals in their four Premier League games this season, although Mbappe said domestic form counts for nothing when it comes to Europe.
Asked if United’s defensive vulnerability this season was something he felt PSG can exploit, Mbappe said: “We haven’t even thought about this.
“We know Manchester United are a team that has many good players and we have to treat the game with respect.
“Their form in the Premier League is not relevant for this game.
“The Champions League is different. They have players that can hurt any team and we must be prepared and ready for them.”