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Rashford becomes latest Premier League star to receive honorary degree

The Manchester United forward has been awarded an honorary degree for his campaign against child poverty, but which other footballers have been recognised by universities?

Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford runs with the ball during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on July 13, 2020. (Photo by PETER POW

The University of Manchester announced on Wednesday that Marcus Rashford will be awarded an honorary degree for his campaign to extend free food vouchers for the poorest families over the summer. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had initially dismissed the idea but Rashford’s perseverance is said to have caused the U-turn.

Rashford grew up in south Manchester and has been with Manchester United since the age of seven. On receiving the award, the England international said:

"When you look at the great names that have been awarded this doctorate in the past, it's humbling.

"We still have a long way to go in the fight to combat child poverty in this country but receiving recognition from your city means we are heading in the right direction and that means a lot."

Honorary degrees are awarded for outstanding work done by an individual, where the usual criteria for an academic degree is waived. Upon granting the award, the university president and vice-chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell said of Rashford:

His work for charity and his high-profile campaign will not only help countless young people across our own city but across the entire country.

“Our university has social responsibility at its core and this sense of civic pride and duty is something we are proud to share with Marcus.”

The latest of many footballing honours

Aged just 22 Marcus Rashford becomes the youngest recipient of an honorary degree from the University of Manchester but he follows in the footsteps of other former Manchester United legends in being recognised. Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have both awarded degrees from Salford University for their contributions to football and charitable causes.

Alan Shearer (Newcastle University), Kevin Phillips (Sunderland University) and Robbie Savage (Glyndwr University, Wrexham) have also all received honorary degrees from institutions near where they grew up or made their names.

Sir Alex Ferguson remains the most qualified figure in British football history with honorary degrees from eight different universities, from the University of Salford in 1996 to the University of Ulster in 2012. The former United boss received three from Manchester-based universities and four from his native Scotland.

Sir Alex’s eight also trumps the six received by disgraced former head of FIFA Sepp Blatter, although the Swiss’ honorary doctorate for “forthright, visionary, ethical” work from De Montfort University has since been rescinded.

Doing it the hard way

While most elite footballers to have received degrees are honoured for their contribution to the game or for their work with charities, there are some who have managed to juggle academic life with playing. Juan Mata earned degrees in Marketing and in Sports Science from Madrid’s Universidad Camilo Jose Cela during his time at Valencia and Chelsea, and has gone on to found the Common Goal charitable initiative.

Vincent Kompany, while captaining Manchester City to multiple Premier League titles, found the time to pick up a Master’s in Business Administration from Alliance Manchester Business School.

Former Arsenal midfielder Andrey Arshavin showed that his talents are not restricted to football and received a degree in Fashion Design during his time at Zenit Saint Petersburg. When asked about it, Arshavin described himself as “an engineer of manufactured garments by education and a footballer by vocation”.

In the modern game it is extremely rare that students are plucked from universities to join the ranks of top level clubs but that’s exactly what happened to Duncan Watmore in 2013. The University of Manchester student was playing non-league football for Altrincham when he signed for Premier League Sunderland and he was named U21 Premier League Player of the Season while studying for a degree in economics and business management. He graduated with first-class honours in December 2015.


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