Barack Obama has high praise for Marcus Rashford

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Marcus Rashford playing for Manchester United
The Manchester United footballer has been campaigning against food poverty

Barack Obama has praised the anti-poverty campaigning of England footballer Marcus Rashford.

In a Zoom meeting, the former United States president told Mr Rashford he was “way ahead of where I was” at that age.

The 23-year-old footballer said it was “surreal” to be talking to Mr Obama from his kitchen in Manchester.

Mr Obama backed young people such as Mr Rashford who are “positive forces in their communities”.

The men, in a meeting set up by the publishers Penguin, discussed the former president’s memoir and shared experiences, such as being raised by single mothers and their involvement in community projects.

‘Adversity and obstacles’

“Even if you do something positive on a small scale, that’s making a difference, and it’s the accumulation of people doing positive things over time that makes us a little bit better with each successive generation,” said Mr Obama.

He also said that when he was younger he had no expectation of becoming president: “If I had had more talent I would have probably preferred to be a professional athlete, like Marcus.”

The former president told Mr Rashford that social movements often started with young people – but the footballer said they often “don’t understand how powerful their voice is”.

The Manchester United footballer, who has run high-profile campaigns to prevent child hunger, said: “When President Obama speaks, all you want to do is listen.”

“I mean, it’s quite surreal isn’t it? I’m sitting in my kitchen in Manchester, speaking to President Obama. But immediately he made me feel at ease.

“It wasn’t long before I realised just how aligned our experiences as children were in shaping the men you see today – adversity, obstacles and all.”

Food poverty

This week Mr Rashford highlighted the “racial slurs” he faced on social media after his team’s defeat in the Europa League final, with the attacks described by Manchester United as “disgraceful racist abuse”.

In their Zoom call, the two men discussed the importance of books and reading.

Mr Obama said his mother had “planted this love of reading” and Mr Rashford said books had given him a freedom to follow his own ideas.

“Rather than someone telling me to do this and do that – books allowed me to do it my own way,” said Mr Rashford.

The footballer last year launched his own children’s book club, to improve reading skills among disadvantaged young people.

With TV chef Tom Kerridge, he is also offering free recipes and cooking tips for affordable, healthy meals, as part of his campaign against food poverty.

Mr Rashford has spoken about being hungry and relying on free school meals as a child – and successfully battled with the government over providing free meals over the school holidays during the pandemic.

This was raised by former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings, who told a select committee of MPs that the prime minister had been advised: “Do not pick a fight with Rashford” but then had to “surrender twice

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