Marcus Rashford's achievement in persuading the UK government to extend its food voucher scheme is more important than any football match he will ever play, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

United and England striker Rashford wrote a letter to members of the House of Commons on Monday imploring them to continue free school meals for disadvantaged children when the term finishes.

Vouchers were given out over the Easter holidays because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the scheme usually only runs during term time and so was due to end next month.

But the FareShare campaign fronted by Rashford forced the government to rethink its approach, with the widespread support on social media ultimately leading to Downing Street making a U-turn.

Rashford will return to his day job on Friday as United resume their Premier League season at Tottenham, but Solskjaer is well aware that no match the 22-year-old plays will be as impactful as the changes he has helped bring.

"As a club, and me as his manager, of course it's been fantastic to follow Marcus throughout the lockdown period as well," Solskjaer told a video news conference on Thursday.

"It's not only that he got the prime minister to change his mind, it's also what he's done over the last few months.

"Marcus is a top human being, he's brought his own experiences as a kid into this conversation and change the lives of many kids.

"He's already been captain of the club at such a young age and he's proving all the time his human qualities which is a main attribute for a Manchester United player.

"What Marcus has done has been incredible, with his family, with his own personality of course. He's always been a great human being and coming up through the academy I think the club recognised that early, gave him chances.

"Of course, we saw the talent, but you need you need to be a really good human being too. He's changed the lives so many kids this summer, which is more important than any game he'll ever play, so hopefully he can keep both sides going as well as he's going now.

"Me at 22, I wouldn't have been in a position to affect people and change like this. I don't think he's thinking about this politically, in any other way than helping people and kids.

"He knows deep down he's helped children with food and to change their lives. I think that makes him feel good about himself and, using his position as a role model, one of the top players in the country, he can affect people in a good way.

"It's up to every individual of course, and footballers as a group have been criticised a lot, even over lockdown, but I think this lockdown has maybe changed people, maybe made them think about larger issues.

"Marcus has always been a good lad and the changes he's made are unbelievable. Footballers are easy targets at different times, but we can affect people in a good way too. If you can use your face to change something for the better, why not?"

Rashford has also been vocal in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has gained significant traction across the world following the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in police custody last month in Minneapolis.

As the Premier League returned on Wednesday, players, coaches and officials copied the demonstration made famous by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, when he protested against social inequality and police brutality by taking a knee.

Solskjaer is confident this time change will come.

"I feel now that, this time it is finally changing," he said. "It's been on the agenda for many years, this issue of racism and we've had a couple of incidents in the league, and we've talked about it and maybe forgotten, but this time it will hopefully affect more people, leaders and decision makers. I think we all support these actions [the pre-match gestures].

"It's been an event in history that's changed people's views and the movement, I think we know this [racism] shouldn't happen in 2020. Players, Premier League teams, we all make a stand to say enough is enough, and I don't think we'll be any different."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hopeful Angel Gomes will agree to a new contract at Manchester United.

The 19-year-old is approaching the end of his deal and United are trying to tie him down to fresh terms.

Talks with the midfielder have been going on for many months and Solskjaer believes a resolution is close, though he did not rule out losing the player.

"Angel is a top kid, we've had him here for so many years," said the United manager. 

"We've offered him a deal and hopefully he'll take that, if not I'll wish him all the best.

"From what I understand it's not too far away. If not, we'll wish him all the best."

Gomes made his United debut back in 2017 and has made two substitute appearances in the Premier League this season.

Solskjaer also offered a team news update ahead of Friday's match at Tottenham, which could have a significant bearing on both clubs' Champions League aspirations.

The Norwegian revealed Marcus Rashford (back) and Paul Pogba (ankle) were available for the club's first game back after the coronavirus-enforced shutdown, with Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe the only absentees.

"We have two players – Jones and Axel – who will miss this game and let's see how bad they are, " he said, without disclosing the nature of their injuries.

"Apart from that, the rest of the squad is fit and available. And of course, Marcus and Paul have been out a long period, but they're available. How long they play – let's see."

United sit fifth, three points behind fourth-place Chelsea and four ahead of Spurs in eighth.

"Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020."

Five days had passed between Marcus Rashford asking Twitter followers for advice and a government U-turn promising £120million of investment in free school meals for disadvantaged children.

Five days to ask for help, lobby support, be told 'no', persevere, and finally, to paraphrase ex-England striker Gary Lineker, score the most important goal of his life.

Five days to change thousands of lives.

This is the England Rashford is shaping. As the Premier League returns to screens across the world after a three-month pause, Manchester United's number 10 is the ambassador it needs.

'HIS STORY RESONATES WITH A LOT OF PEOPLE'

United play Tottenham in north London on Friday, 99 days since their last game, a 5-0 Europa League thrashing of LASK. The wait has been far longer for Rashford, for whom carrying the Red Devils' attack became literally back-breaking labour in an FA Cup third-round replay win over Wolves on January 15.

It was feared the double stress fracture in his back would see him miss the rest of the season and perhaps Euro 2020. The coronavirus pandemic brought the campaign to a halt and gave Rashford the chance to work on his recovery, patiently and attentively, and few would begrudge that being the sole focus of his time in lockdown. It wasn't, of course.

In April, Rashford teamed up with FareShare, a charity providing meals to disadvantaged people. His own donation helped them reach a £100,000 target and started a snowball effect: supermarket chains got involved, and suddenly that target was £20million.

Rashford's considered campaigning kept up the momentum and brought the charity both vital funds and a platform to garner support. In May, he was given a Special Recognition Award by the High Sheriff of Manchester, Dr Eamonn O'Neal, for  "outstanding activity and contribution to the community".

"Marcus was nominated for showing great compassion for the vulnerable people in our community," Dr O'Neal told Stats Perform News. "He has used his name, position and reputation in a selfless manner to ensure that hot meals have been provided to many young people who may otherwise have gone hungry. He has raised a staggering amount of money and consequently, an enormous number of meals have been distributed. He has done this with humility and a deep understanding of the various levels of need experienced across Greater Manchester and beyond."

There were further gestures that flew under the radar: engaging with young fans via social channels, running an exercise session for kids stuck at home, learning sign language to judge a poetry contest for children hard of hearing. Former Manchester United striker Louis Saha thinks Rashford "identified the power he has" to help in a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

"He really structured it in the right way and this is what is needed in the community," Saha told Stats Perform. "It was done locally in a way that they can control how they've done it. It's really good. I'm a big fan and a lot of players should follow that example. Not everyone can do it because Rashford has a very unique platform in Manchester and I would say his story resonates with a lot of people, which is why it's a really good story."

On June 11, Rashford announced "amazing news": the FareShare target was reached, and three million people in the UK would benefit. But there was an addendum: "There is SO much more to do. Trust me when I say, I will keep fighting until no child in the UK has to worry about where their next meal is coming from. This is England in 2020 and families need help."

'I'M NOT SURE HE KNOWS THE ENORMITY OF WHAT HE'S DOING'

Before he joined United's academy at age seven, Rashford was one of a distressingly high number of children in the UK to depend upon free school meals. With schools closing amid the pandemic and a refusal to extend the scheme over the summer months, low-income families were at huge risk. The government stood firm in its decision until Rashford's persistence forced them to change tack and announce "a COVID summer food fund".

"It's unbelievable," Troy Townsend, head of development at anti-discrimination body Kick It Out, told Stats Perform. "He's basically called the government out and that's what it needed because there was going to be no movement on this.

"What this period of time has, I hope, really taught [Premier League] players is that there is a lot of strength and power behind them. Marcus is the standout story among many stories. 

"I'm not even sure he knows the enormity of what he's doing. It's genuine, it's from an experience he had as a youngster. Maybe after today, he'll realise the enormity of what he's done."

Townsend realises it well enough. As a former teacher in Leytonstone in east London when Rashford himself was still a schoolboy in Wythenshawe, he has seen first hand how the simple matter of where a child's next meal will come from can shape a young life.

"I remember once where there was a young girl coming with us for the first time and I told her to get her packed lunch and she just stood and looked at me. I thought, what's wrong? What're you doing? Go and get your packed lunch, we're on our way. And she said, 'Sir, I haven't got packed lunch'. And simple as it was, it broke me. But I had to think really quickly on my feet.

"The question back was probably wrong: 'Why haven't you got a packed lunch?'. And her answer was: 'My mum hasn't got bread.' I can tell you, even now, and this was over 10 years ago, it's breaking my heart. Luckily, you go to the school canteen and you say, 'This young lady needs a lunch', and then you put measures in place.

"It's not easy for any child to walk into a school environment and say: 'I need help because I haven't eaten.' So that's why, when I see what Marcus is doing, most people in the primary school system – particularly in a deprived area – would understand that there are children who would go up until probably six o'clock, unless they've taken a bit of food off a friend, who were embarrassed to speak up about their lack of food, water, and would probably not have come to school with any breakfast anyway, and the one meal they would get is the meal when they finally get home.

"There are times I've had to give children a pound. There's a chicken shop – it's the easiest thing to get for a pound, two bits of chicken and chips, or it was in my day, and you didn't think about, 'Hold on, they've got to go and run in a minute!'. You just wanted them to be fed.

"It's a tough thing to talk about. Those of us who get three, four meals a day and those little bits in between can feel how privileged we are because even in this country of ours, there are children that don't have those meals. That's why what Marcus is doing means so much, particularly to those who get it, but it will also have opened up so many eyes."

A PROPER LEADER

Since that explosive debut against Midtjylland five years ago, Rashford has been at the eye of the storm at Old Trafford.

His boyish, instinctive goalscoring knack endeared him to fans wearied to the point of mutiny by the turgid football in Louis van Gaal's final season. He sometimes looked cowed by the toxic bullishness of Jose Mourinho and there were a few disappointing games too many, such as the FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea in 2017, but there was still a sense of a young star trying to rise through a poisonous atmosphere.

While far from wholly successful, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time in charge has at least pointed to a longer-term vision – one with Rashford at the forefront.

"There are definitely four or five players who are very important to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer," said Saha. "All those players who made that improvement process were very important, and I think for Rashford, the introduction of [Harry] Maguire was important to give that kind of confidence aspect.

"That's why you give the platform for Rashford to make the difference all the time because he can do it because his work rate is amazing and that thing he maybe missed in one year because maybe he thought 'I've got my position, I'm respected, I've got my status so I don't need to do this or that'. Those things can be a bad sign for those playing behind you. Now you can see he is a proper leader."

Rashford has certainly led by example in 2019-20. Fourteen goals and four assists in 22 league games is by far his best return in a season, but Opta advanced metrics paint a more layered picture.

This season, Rashford has averaged 0.77 open play sequences ending in a goal, his best record by a distance over a full season. He is also shooting more often after an open-play sequence than ever before – 4.78 times per match on average.

He is a finisher, yes, but his involvement in Solskjaer's increasingly fluid set-up is broader than that. On average, he covers 15.24 metres per ball carry, the highest figure he has posted in his career (a carry is a movement of the ball by a player of more than five yards from where they received possession).

This season, Rashford has covered 113.1 metres in progressive carries (ball carries in the opposition half that progress at least five metres towards goal). That's six metres more than in the whole of 2016-17, his previous best season. His average distance per progressive carry is more than two metres above his past best, nearly two thirds of these carries have ended in a shot, and 0.14 in a goal.

These indicate a forward with increasing power and confidence in his own prowess, embracing the responsibilities as United's spearhead. A leader, in name and deeds. At 22 years old.

"He's been relentless, just like the way he plays football," said Townsend. "You've got to applaud not only him but his mother and the people around him for having the foresight and not losing the energy. At the top of it now, we’ve got a 22-year-old man who's still developing not only as a man but as a footballer and a presence in the game who is now affecting so many lives in so many ways."

Rashford could one day become the best forward in the Premier League. He is already one of its greatest ambassadors: talented, inspirational, compassionate. He sums up what England should be – the England he is striving to build.

Marcus Rashford's successful lobbying of the UK government to extend its free school meals provision showed the "big power" of popular footballers, according to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

Manchester United and England forward Rashford wrote to members of parliament urging them to extend food voucher provision for 1.3 million children from low-income families over the forthcoming school holidays.

The scheme typically only runs during term time but Rashford ultimately persuaded prime minister Boris Johnson to take action, in light of increased difficulties for many of the most vulnerable in society during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a video conference on Wednesday, Ceferin praised Rashford and suggested his organisation could do more when looking to address social issues.

"He is a very popular football player," said Ceferin.

"It's a big, big power and obviously he's a smart guy. We are impressed by his achievement."

Rashford is one of a number of players who have given their support to the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in police custody last month.

Protests calling for an end to racial discrimination have swept the globe and Ceferin confirmed UEFA is reviewing its own work in this area, especially with regards to improving black and minority ethnic (BAME) representation within its operations.

"We are discussing about many things these days. We know the situation is serious, and it is more and more serious every day," he said.

"It's too early to share with the public because we haven't concretely yet. We know the power of football and governing bodies is huge, so we should use that for at least good messaging.

"Probably the campaigns we had were not enough. We tried a lot. Still, I think we should come to the next level.

"Honestly speaking, it is too early to speak about our concrete ideas that we are discussing."

Cristiano Ronaldo will "probably" play out the final years of his career in MLS, according to his former Manchester United and Portugal team-mate Nani.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has established himself as one of the sport's all-time greats, winning four of his five Champions League trophies during a nine-year spell with Real Madrid.

He left the Santiago Bernabeu as their all-time leading goalscorer and has surpassed 700 for club and country since moving to Juventus in 2018.

Although he is showing few signs of decline – as evidenced by his 21 goals in Serie A this term, equal to his tally in 2019-20 despite playing nine fewer matches – Ronaldo is now 35 years old.

Retirement does not appear to be imminent, however, with his Juve contract running for another two years, and he is seemingly planning on a spell in the United States before calling it a day.

"A couple of years ago, he told me that he will probably end up in America," Nani, who plays in MLS with Orlando City, told ESPN.

"It's not 100 per cent, but probably. There is a chance."

Nani is convinced by the quality of football in MLS, even if he does recognise there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"It is a great league," Nani said. "Obviously there are points where we must improve as a league, even in the quality of the players.

"[But] here you have fantastic clubs, well organised with fantastic conditions, great coaches, great players. You see every season improving.

"I think we all have the conditions in this league. We are in a great country, everything is around us. It is all about being better, not being afraid to improve."

Manchester United are said to be ready to turn their attention to Bayer Leverkusen Jamaica international Leon Bailey, if deals for two main targets, Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and Aston Villa's Jack Grealish, fail to materialize.

United head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is reported to be keen on adding an attacking midfielder to his ranks ahead of next season, but the uncertainty of the coronavirus market and expense of Grealish and Sancho could make the Jamaican a more attractive prospect.

Bailey has had a stop-start kind of season, halted by injury and other issues, for Leverkusen after an eye-catching introduction to German football two seasons ago.  While the player remains sought after in the market, some believe his price tag now falls in the £40 million range.  This could make the player a more palatable option than Sancho and Grealish who are likely to eclipse the £100 million mark.

Bailey signed for Leverkusen from Belgian side Genk in 2017.  He's made 110 appearances across all competitions for the club, scoring 24 times.  His best campaign came in 2017-18 when he netted nine goals and provided six assists.   

In 19 Bundesliga appearances this season, Bailey has five goals.  The player has, however, lost his regular spot in the starting lineup under coach Peter Bosz.  He has three years remaining on his current contract.

Internationally, Bailey made his senior debut for the Reggae Boyz in 2019 and has been capped six times.

 

 

Bruno Fernandes is relishing the prospect of playing alongside Paul Pogba when Manchester United resume their Premier League campaign on Friday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side return to action at fellow Champions League hopefuls Tottenham, with United in the mix for a top-four finish following a strong run of form before the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.

United's resurgence has coincided with the arrival of Fernandes from Sporting CP and the midfielder was influential in the impressive 2-0 win over rivals Manchester City in their most recent top-flight outing in March.

Pogba has not played since December but the three-month hiatus has enabled the World Cup-winning France star to overcome an ankle injury and he could feature at Spurs.

That is music to the ears of Fernandes, who told talkSPORT:  "We are so excited to restart the season and play again.

"I think everyone is excited to see Paul Pogba play again after his long injury.

"For me, playing alongside him will be amazing, obviously everyone wants to play with the best players and Paul is one of them.

"But we have a lot of good players and the most important thing is the results for Manchester United."

Fernandes is yet to taste defeat for United and has been credited with lifting the entire team.

However, the Portuguese insists he is just one of many leaders in the side.

"I think everyone has to be a leader in their own way," he said.

"Everyone here is a leader, in everything you have different leaderships and I think I'm just another one. I try to help everyone and they try to help me.

"I do always want the ball, that is true, and I will always be like that."

Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have used their platforms to make the world a better place, according to Pep Guardiola.

The Manchester City boss spoke of his admiration for the duo, citing them as prime examples of why footballers should feel empowered to speak out.

Manchester United forward Rashford led a successful campaign to force a U-turn from the United Kingdom government on the provision of free meals to vulnerable children during the school holidays, with the coronavirus pandemic having left many families in a worse plight.

Fellow England star Sterling has been vocal on the issue of racism, which has come into sharper focus globally following the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Addressing the critics who favour the response "stick to football" when players decide to take a stand, Guardiola said: "Maybe these stupid people don't believe you are human beings too.

"We can have an opinion the same as a nurse, a doctor or even a politician.

"We are humans and why shouldn't we say our opinion when you believe you can make a better society, when you are public?

"What Raheem Sterling has done many times, players in our club, Marcus Rashford or whoever, of course they have to use these platforms to make a better society.

"They don't need to get more money – fortunately for them they have enough – so they do it to get a better place to live, for their families, for our kids, for the next generations.

"So that is always why, when the people say it is not enough, of course it isn't but let's start from here. I admire these kinds of gestures a lot because they do it for all of us."

Guardiola's side return to Premier League action after a three-month absence with the visit of Arsenal on Wednesday.

Marcus Rashford hopes the success of his free school meals campaign will encourage other players to speak up about social issues they care about.

The Manchester United and England striker wrote to members of parliament this week, imploring the United Kingdom government to continue providing food vouchers for 1.3million vulnerable children over the school holidays.

The scheme typically only runs during term time but the government made a U-turn on Tuesday and extended it for six weeks, with prime minister Boris Johnson claiming he had been unaware of Rashford's campaign prior to learning about the 22-year-old's own story.

Rashford feels it can be used as an example for why modern players should use their platforms to highlight important societal matters, as his England team-mates Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho have done regarding racial injustice.

"Especially our generation of players in our sport, it's becoming more normal that people speak out on topics that they believe in," Rashford told BBC Breakfast.

"I think it's just positive for the future. We look at the generations after us, hopefully it becomes a normal thing and people actually want to do that and put themselves forward to do that."

Rashford has also helped charity FareShare reach a goal of supplying three million meals for children by the end of June.

He received widespread support for his lobbying of MPs, with United and England great David Beckham among those to praise his work.

Asked what his current United team-mates had said to him, Rashford replied: "They've all been interested and just asking questions about it.

"People want to make change and sometimes, like I was, you don't know the ins and outs of certain situations and the amount of people that it's actually affecting.

"They're just asking general questions like that and just trying to gain an understanding of it, which is definitely positive because that's what you need to do - you need to raise awareness to people who don't know."

The forward intends to continue to campaign for disadvantaged children having revealed his own reliance on free meals and food vouchers when growing up.

Though the campaign has dominated the news agenda in the UK over the past few days, health secretary Matt Hancock still managed to commit a faux pas when he called Rashford 'Daniel' during a Sky News interview on Wednesday.

Rashford saw the funny side, writing back to England legend Gary Lineker on Twitter: "I've been called much worse over the last couple of days."

Hancock later replied to Rashford calling him "a credit to the nation".

Rashford wrote back: "As I said yesterday this was never about politics or me.

"The PM didn't need to U-turn the decision but I'm thankful he did. I asked you to listen and you did that so on behalf of all mums like mine, dads and carers that are struggling across the country, thank you."

Manchester United know what they will need to pay for Aston Villa star Jack Grealish, and they may look elsewhere.

Grealish has been linked with a move to Old Trafford after an impressive campaign with Villa.

However, United could opt for a cheaper alternative.

 

TOP STORY – VILLA WANT £80M FOR MAN UTD TARGET GREALISH

Aston Villa want at least £80million for Jack Grealish amid links to Manchester United, according to the Daily Mail.

The report says Villa also have hope of keeping the attacker if they can avoid Premier League relegation.

Grealish, 24, has scored seven goals and provided six assists in 26 Premier League games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could Manchester United look elsewhere? The Sun reports United are eyeing Bayer Leverkusen forward Leon Bailey as a cheaper alternative to Grealish and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho.

- Staying at Old Trafford and France Football claims Manchester United have made contact with Willian, who is coming out of contract at Chelsea.

- Miralem Pjanic's Juventus future seems unclear. Sport reports the midfielder is moving away from the Serie A club amid links to Barcelona and Chelsea.

- Perhaps Juventus and Chelsea could be set for a swap deal. The Sun says Chelsea are set to be offered Adrien Rabiot and Federico Bernardeschi for Jorginho and Marcos Alonso.

- Another player who has been linked to Manchester United is Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. However, BILD reports Borussia Dortmund have reached an agreement with the 16-year-old midfielder, but are having problems with the transfer fee.

- On loan at Borussia Dortmund since 2018, Achraf Hakimi is due to return to Real Madrid. However, AS reports Bayern Munich are eager to sign the full-back and are willing to offer a sizeable transfer fee and salary.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted he was unaware of Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend food vouchers for vulnerable children until the day the United Kingdom government made a U-turn.

Manchester United and England striker Rashford wrote to members of parliament on Monday, imploring the government not to stop free school meals for around 1.3million disadvantaged children from next month.

The food voucher scheme only normally runs during term time but was used during the Easter holiday because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and Rashford had asked for the government to extend it again.

On Monday, shortly after Rashford tweeted his letter, the Department of Education posted a blog on its website reiterating that the scheme was not due to run over the school summer holidays in the UK.

However, after support for Rashford's campaign continued to grow on Tuesday, the government announced a six-week, £120million 'COVID summer food fund'.

Speaking at the government's daily briefing, Johnson said: "I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign which, to be honest, I only became aware of today. I thank him for what he's done. I think he's right to draw attention to this issue.

"We've got large numbers of kids who haven't been able to get back into school, we're got a problem in getting kids back into school in the way that we would want for the reasons that people understand - though actually there are lots of kids that aren't going back to school and I'd like to see that happen.

"I do think it's right that we should be looking after the families of the most vulnerable, the neediest right now and that's why we have got the COVID summer fund plan that we've announced today, and I hope it will make a big difference to those kids and those families."

Rashford, who has also helped charity FareShare reach a goal of supplying three million meals by the end of June, had spoken about his own reliance on free school meals and food banks growing up.

The 22-year-old - praised by both United and England on social media - wrote a message to MPs on Twitter that said his campaign was "never about politics".

Rashford said: "This was never about me or you, this was never about politics, this was a cry out for help from vulnerable parents all over the country and I simply provided a platform for their voices to be heard.

"I stand proud today knowing that we have listened, and we have done what is right.

"There is still a long way to go but I am thankful to you all that we have given these families just one less thing to worry about tonight.

"The wellbeing of our children should ALWAYS be a priority."

Marcus Rashford said the United Kingdom government has "done what is right" after making a U-turn and extending its food voucher scheme to vulnerable children.

Earlier this week Manchester United and England striker Rashford wrote to members of parliament imploring the government not to stop free school meals for disadvantaged kids when term finishes.

Vouchers were given out over the Easter holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic but the scheme only normally runs during term time and so was set to end from next month.

However, following Rashford's letter, which received widespread support on social media, the government announced a six-week £120million COVID summer food fund that is thought to benefit around 15 per cent of state school pupils.

Rashford wrote a message on Twitter that he addressed "to all MPs", saying: "This was never about me or you, this was never about politics, this was a cry out for help from vulnerable parents all over the country and I simply provided a platform for their voices to be heard.

"I stand proud today knowing that we have listened, and we have done what is right.

"There is still a long way to go but I am thankful to you all that we have given these families just one less thing to worry about tonight.

"The wellbeing of our children should ALWAYS be a priority."

Rashford, who has also helped charity FareShare reach a goal of supplying three million meals by the end of June, had spoken about his own reliance on free school meals and food banks growing up.

The 22-year-old had continued to push for change despite Downing Street initially reiterating that the scheme would end when schools closed for the holidays.

As well as being praised by Labour leader Keir Starmer and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, United also paid tribute to their striker.

"A hero. An inspiration. One of our own. We are so proud of you, MarcusRashford," the Premier League club wrote on Twitter.

England also wrote a message of support on Twitter, saying: "Amazing to see your efforts rewarded and to know so many will benefit. We're so proud of you, Marcus."

The United Kingdom government has extended its food voucher scheme for vulnerable school children following a campaign led by Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.

England international Rashford wrote a letter to members of the House of Commons on Monday imploring them not to stop free school meals for disadvantaged children when term finishes. 

Vouchers were given out over the Easter holiday because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the scheme normally only runs during term time and so was due to end next month.

However, Rashford's campaign to force the government to rethink its approach received widespread support on social media and has now resulted in Downing Street making a U-turn.

"Owing to the coronavirus pandemic the prime minister fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer," a spokesperson for prime minister Boris Johnson said.

"To reflect this we will be providing a COVID summer food fund, this will provide food vouchers over the six-week summer holiday period.

"This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic. The scheme will not continue beyond the summer."

Rashford reacted to the news on Twitter, saying: "I don't even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020."

Marcus Rashford has vowed to continue his fight for free school meals, stating combating child poverty is "something much bigger than football".

United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday rejected a plea from England international Rashford for children who qualified for the food voucher scheme during the coronavirus lockdown to carry on receiving them after the academic year ends.

The Manchester United forward responded by tweeting: "We aren't beaten yet, stand strong for the 200,000 children who haven't had a meal to eat today and keep retweeting #maketheUturn."

In an article for The Times, Rashford called on the government to "do the right thing" and "give our vulnerable families just one less thing to worry about".

Rashford wrote: "People often ask me how it felt to score the deciding penalty against PSG to knock them out of the Champions League last season, my answer is always the same: did we go on to win the tournament?

"I have been overwhelmed by the support I've received over the last 24 hours, from MPs and members of the public, but the feeling I have is exactly the same as when we got knocked out of the Champions League against Barcelona in the next round: what did we achieve if we didn't get the result we needed? If we didn't lift the Champions League?

"Today I focus on a trophy that stands for something much bigger than football.

"A U-turn on the decision to stop the free food voucher scheme continuing over the summer holidays could help us reach the next round but we still have a very long way to go as a country to eventually lift the trophy.

"In this case, the trophy is combating child poverty.

"I don't claim to have the education of an MP in parliament, but I do have a social education. I am clued up on the difference a U-turn decision would make on the 1.3 million vulnerable children across the UK who are registered for free school meals because 10 years ago I was one of them."

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, he added: "When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about the parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown.

"When you turn on your kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee think of those parents who have had to default on electricity bill payments just to make ends meet having lost their jobs during the pandemic.

"And when you head to the fridge to grab the milk, stop and recognise that parents of at least 200,000 children across the country this morning are waking up to empty shelving.

"Recognise children around the country are this morning innocently questioning 'why?' 9 out of 30 children in any given classroom are today asking 'why?' 'Why does our future not matter?'"

Labour leader Keir Starmer backed Rashford's call for the government to make a U-turn on free school meals, with the subject to be debated as part of an opposition day in parliament.

Shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told the BBC: "Any government that is willing to let the poorest children in the country go hungry needs to take a long hard look at its priorities.

"Shamefully, children go hungry every year, but this summer will be especially difficult for many families as job losses and reduced incomes hit household budgets.

"There will be many Conservative MPs today watching this and having read Marcus' letter who will be agonising about whether they support the government or not in this because they will want what's best for children.

"So, I'm asking all politicians, whatever party they're in, this is not about party politics, this is about making sure children don't go hungry over the summer holidays."

Kai Havertz leaving the Bundesliga for the Premier League has emerged as a strong possibility.

Chelsea and Manchester United are reportedly vying for the Bayer Leverkusen attacker's signature.

However, Bayern Munich could keep the Germany international in his homeland.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN IN POLE POSITION FOR HAVERTZ

Bayern Munich are favourites to sign Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz, according to the Telegraph.

The race is heating up for Havertz, who has been heavily linked to Premier League trio Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Real Madrid are also reportedly interested but Bundesliga champions Bayern are in pole position to bring the Germany international to Bavaria as they also look to sign Manchester City's Leroy Sane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato says Milan are determined to lure Madrid forward Luka Jovic to San Siro. The Serbia international has struggled since swapping Eintracht Frankfurt for Madrid at the start of the season. Madrid want between €45 and €50million for Jovic and the report claims Milan could look to sell Rade Krunic, Lucas Paqueta, Andre Silva, Suso and Mateo Musacchio to raise funds.

- The front page of Tuesday's Diario AS claims Bayern will offer Achraf Hakimi a "galactic" salary to prise the Morocco international from Madrid. The full-back has spent the past two seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund.

United are leading the chase for Watford defender Pervis Estupinan amid interest from Tottenham, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, according to the Express. The Ecuadorian is on loan from Osasuna.

Juventus and Barcelona have entered the chase for Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, reports Corriere dello Sport. Milinkovic-Savic has been heavily linked to Paris Saint-Germain, as well as United.

- Sport says Pedro's proposed move from Chelsea to Roma has collapsed amid an internal fallout in the Italian capital. The veteran forward has now been offered to Valencia.

Chelsea will finalise a deal to sign RB Leipzig and Germany forward Timo Werner this week, the Evening Standard claims. Liverpool and United were also eyeing Werner.

- Sport Bild journalist Christian Falk reports PSG are interested in signing Bayern's Lucas Hernandez to replace departing defender Thiago Silva. PSG will not renew Silva's contract in the French capital.

- Falk also says Dortmund have not received any official offers for star Jadon Sancho, who has been linked to United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca.

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