What makes the talented Kobbie Mainoo so impressive?

It is often difficult to believe that Kobbie Mainoo is just 18 years of age. Manchester United‘s young midfielder displays such maturity, on and off the pitch, that it is strange to think that he has only recently reached the legal age to buy a bottle of beer in the UK. But how is it that the young man went from an obscure youth talent last summer, to a player that is one of the first names on the Manchester United team sheet each week and is revered as the hopes of England’s midfield for Euros 2024?

Kobbie Mainoo has always been a bright talent. He joined United’s ranks as a young boy and progressed through all of the youth teams. He started to attract attention when he starred, alongside Alejandro Garnacho, in Manchester United’s FA Youth Cup run in 2021/22. The star-studded youth team won the tournament and Mainoo played a massive part. His name rapidly circulated around United youth team forums and Twitter accounts and his name started to crop up in first-team conversations. He subsequently signed his first professional contract in May 2022.

His impressive youth team performances continued, as he showed aptitudes far beyond his years and he was included in the first-team squad for a match against Newcastle. In January 2023, Mainoo was thrust right into the starting XI in a Carabao Cup quarter-final against Charlton. He acquitted himself well as United sauntered to a 3-0 victory. It was enough to earn him his first FA Cup appearance later that month and then his first Premier League appearance in February. That same month, after United won the Carabao Cup, Erik ten Hag was seen with his arm around the youngster, giving him some advice and motivation as if to say ‘This will be you soon’. He’s close to being proved right.

The youngster getting some advice from fellow academy graduate Marcus Rashford (Photo by James Gill-Danehouse/Getty Images)

In the pre-season, Mainoo played a key part in the Red Devils’ lineup. Alongside Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro, Mainoo formed a balanced and exciting midfield. It overcame Arsenal 2-0 and then formed the basis of the team against Real Madrid in Houston a few days later. Unfortunately, Mainoo suffered a devastating injury six minutes into the match as Rodrygo fell onto his ankle. The midfield that could’ve been was thwarted as Mainoo was ruled out for several months. Sofyan Amrabat was loaned in his stead.

He worked hard behind the scenes and in November, he was thrust back into the starting lineup as United faced Everton at Goodison Park. Immediately, he was a breath of fresh air. The 18-year-old was more composed on the ball than any other of United’s midfielders. He was relaxed receiving the ball under pressure. He progressed the ball forward, but also knew when to turn and recycle the ball backwards. He was exciting to watch. United won 3-0 as Mainoo immediately caught the attention of football fans… and Gareth Southgate too.

Mainoo was excellent against Everton. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

He continued to have the trust of Ten Hag and started at Anfield, as United faced Liverpool. This was a fixture that United lost 7-0 last year, so all eyes were on them to improve and not get humiliated again. Playing Mainoo was a risk but he thrived against Liverpool, taking the responsibility in his stride and performing his defensive duties with aplomb. Mainoo’s story can essentially be told in three games against Liverpool. This was Game One. United secured a 0-0 draw.

It was against Wolves that Mainoo truly announced himself. United had cruised to a 2-0 and then a 3-1 lead, and it looked like the three points were heading to Manchester. That was before Pedro Neto equalised for Wolves in the 95th minute. United were shaken. Fortunately for them, Mainoo wasn’t.

Picking up the ball from Omari Forson in the middle of the pitch, he jinked past Joao Gomes, nutmegged Max Kilman, used Forson’s run as a decoy, dribbled inside and then curled the ball from the edge of the box into Jose Sa’s far corner, winning the game for the Red Devils. He celebrated with the “calma calma” as if this was all part of his plan and nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was just another match for Kobbie Mainoo.

His goal deservedly then won the February 2024 Goal of the Month award.

All part of the plan for the young man. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Next came Game Two against Liverpool. FA Cup quarter-finals. Mainoo shone. He made experienced Liverpool midfielders look like teenagers, whilst he looked like he was in his prime. He jinked past players as if they weren’t there, he was tenacious and he helped United secure a historic win over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

When his legs tired late on and he came off, he was granted a standing ovation as he sauntered off, soaking in the applause. As he reached the bench, he encouraged the fans to keep cheering, doing all he could on and off the pitch to win the game for United.

In fact, his performance was so good it earned him a last-minute call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad. He’d only just received his first-ever U21 call-up, but Southgate decided he was far too good for that. He joined right in with the first team.

He settled in well with the squad before earning his first cap against Belgium and his first start against Brazil at Wembley. His stellar performances had fans claiming that he must start in the summer in Germany at Euro 2024.

Mainoo secured his first England start against Brazil. (Photo by Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)

It was straight back to business after the international break and it was time for Mainoo’s Liverpool Game Three. More than 10% of Mainoo’s United games have come against Liverpool. United were seriously under the cosh in this game. Backs to the wall and all. To be frank, Mainoo was struggling to get involved. But he came up with an inspired moment of magic in the second half.

Taking the ball from Wan-Bissaka with his back to goal at the edge of the box, he curled the ball into Kelleher’s far corner without even taking a look at the goal. He put United 2-1 ahead and celebrated nonchalantly in the corner with the United fans and his close friend Garnacho before being mobbed by the rest of the team. It seems like Mainoo only scores incredible goals.

As Kobbie Mainoo continues to dazzle on the pitch with his mature performances and extraordinary talent, the future seems boundless for the young midfielder. With each game, he cements his place as a key figure in Manchester United’s lineup, drawing praise from fans, teammates, and pundits alike. As Euro 2024 approaches, anticipation mounts for Mainoo’s potential to make a significant impact on the international stage with England.

With his blend of composure, skill, and tactical intelligence, he stands poised to play a pivotal role in England’s midfield, offering Gareth Southgate a dynamic and versatile option as the Three Lions chase glory in Germany. With the world at his feet and his stock continuing to rise, Mainoo’s journey from promising youth talent to footballing sensation is only just beginning.

By Nicky Helfgott / @NickyH3lfgott on Twitter

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