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Manchester United youngster keen to prove his worth

TALENT: Ashley Fletcher

IT WAS late February when Marcus Rashford got the call that he was going to be starting in Manchester United’s Europa League tie against FC Midtylland. But what transpired after was a performance of the highest quality when Rashford stole the show at Old Trafford to become their new cult hero.

Watching the game 38 miles away was another emerging United talent Ashley Fletcher, who was making a name for himself during his loan spell in the third tier at Barnsley. But in the months that have followed since Rashford’s meteoric rise, it has dawned on Fletcher that: It could have been me.

Rashford was born in Wythenshawe in a district south of Manchester, whilst Fletcher was born in Keighley in West Yorkshire. Yet the duo, who are two years a part, uncannily boast similar attributes and formed a telepathic understanding having played together for United’s U16s right up until the U21s.

It would have been inconceivable to predict that Rashford would go on to score on his Premier League debut for the United first team, as well as for the England senior team. But when quizzed about the possibility of playing alongside the unassuming striker, Fletcher promptly smiles – almost as if to say anything Rashford can do he can do too.

“Football is a funny game, but I’m proud of what I’ve done here at Barnsley,” said the 20-year-old. “Who knows what can happen in the future. I’d like to think that [I will be able to play up front with Marcus] because he is doing unbelievably well at the moment.

“Scoring for England and Manchester United’s first team is a fantastic achievement for him, so he deserves all the attention he is getting. But I’d like to think I will able to run him for a place in the team next season.

“We’ve played together from the U16s, U18s to the U21s. For us to play together in the first team would be a massive achievement.”

Fletcher is acutely aware of the challenges it will take to stake a claim for a starting berth at Old Trafford next term, especially with Jose Mourinho now at the helm with a reputed sum of £200m he will have at his disposal to spend.

The former Chelsea boss’ undoing has been his inability to hone the development of young talent. During his recent tumultuous spell with the Blues, highly-rated Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus Cheek was a periphery figure – and it was the ‘Special One’ who jettisoned Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, both of whom have since forged success careers elsewhere.

But with all factors amalgamated, Fletcher is keeping his options open and having been of the key components in Barnsley’s promotion to the Championship a return on loan could be on the cards.

He added: “Manchester Untied is a massive club and they will have to spend a lot of money if they want to be competing at the top of the Premier League and in the Champions League, so who knows.

“Getting into the United first team has to be my aim and if it doesn’t work out then hopefully I’d be able to play with Barnsley again. I’m proud of my time here and what I’ve achieved. It’s a club that I hold very deep in my heart now.”

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