comment For too long, footballers only had a voice about football issues - Marcus Rashford has changed that
The most remarkable thing about what Marcus Rashford has achieved in the last few weeks, with the way he has taken on the British Government, is that he has done it at the age of 22.
And he has also achieved it while playing, and playing well, for a club in a very highly pressurised situation - coming off the bench on Wednesday night to score a hat-trick in the Champions League.
A lot of players use the free time they have while being out injured for a long spell to mount a campaign like the one Rashford did.
Footballers have always tried to make a difference via a solo project or a campaign just of their own, but Rashford has done it on a national scale. And he did it for every underprivileged kid in Britain, not just the kids from the same town as him.
Campaigns like this were always locally-based, a club doing charity work in their local area. But Rashford has taken on the Government at national level. And he has managed to get things changed.
It's easy for a footballer to get caught up in a campaign like this, an issue that he's passionate about, but there's a danger you might become a tool for outside forces, for politicians. Rashford didn't do this to impress MPs or other politicians, he did it as the childhood poverty issue is something he really believes in and it drives him.
He has done an amazing job, but it shouldn't be up to a 22-year-old footballer to make sure that kids in England don't go hungry. He has shamed the politicians and I can only admire someone who is that passionate about an issue at the age of 22.
He has highlighted a serious issue in society, in front of a Government that was saying at the start of the Covid crisis that footballers should give up part of their salaries to charity. It shouldn't have taken a footballer to make people aware of how important the issue is, in the same way it shouldn't have needed Raheem Sterling to highlight the issues in society that matter to him. These are matters that the Government should be taking care of.
For too long, footballers only had a voice about football issues and now the likes of Rashford and Sterling have opened the door for others who want to help people. They are forcing politicians into making changes.
I know that school meals are an issue in England. Speaking to people involved in clubs over here, they don't know if kids are getting fed during the school holidays, or if kids are coming to training with only a packet of crisps to eat. There is real poverty in England and it's vital for those kids to get a proper meal during the day.
And it's so impressive that Rashford has continued to do his job on the field with Manchester United. It's hard enough being a Premier League footballer today as the pressure is on you in every single game.
You have to work so hard in every training session. You can't go in and perform at 75 per cent on a day, you have to give 100 per cent every day you set foot in that training ground to stay in the team.
Rashford has done that, which is great to see that he can be a committed footballer as well as an impressive activist for social issues.
To have that focus in the toughest competitions in the game, the Premier League and the Champions League, it's like he has to lead two lives these days - Marcus Rashford the footballer and Marcus Rashford the campaigner.
And he is doing both with pride.
In my time as a footballer, players tended not to take a stand on social issues, or if they did it was kept close to home.
It's not an easy thing to do, to put your hand up and make a stand, because you become a target for criticism, as has happened to Rashford. Players now know that there is a pathway to effect change in society. The way people have responded to Rashford's campaign will convince them they can make a difference.
His on-field performance was one of the things to emerge from a convincing win in the Champions League on Wednesday, but you always have a fear about this United side.
They have some really good players in their team. But they don't have a team of consistent players who play at the same level all the time.
They can go on a run, win a few games, but then they drop off.
My big worry about United is at the back. They don't have the defensive pairing to withstand a full season. You just know they will make errors along the way.
They showed last season that they can beat Arsenal, they can compete with Manchester City, they can compete with Liverpool, they can beat teams but they can just as easily drop off the pace in a less high-profile game.
That is their downfall. That inconsistency, the inability to deliver every week. You can only take them seriously when they go and play well, and win again and again over a few months.
Paul Pogba has under-performed for a long time now. How many chances does he need? He has extended his contract, but that strikes me as United trying to increase his value when they do try to sell him. As a player, he doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.
So United should be looking to get results from a game like Arsenal at home on Sunday. They have had good results against the top-six sides for a while, but it's about having that consistency, to do it over a sustained period if they are to be a serious side. If you have enough strong characters in the dressing room, they should realise that as well - it's not always the manager's fault.
I don't know what it's like to be in a dressing room with Pogba, but he strikes me as a player who will look to blame someone else for what's going wrong. If United have enough strong characters who can take the responsibility on themselves, they have a chance of improving.
Players like Rashford have done that, but they, as a team, need to do it over a period of time, not just over 90 minutes, for them to become a serious side.