While Manchester United‘s recent Carabao Cup triumph has indicated that new boss Erik ten Hag is primarily concerned with leading the club to success in the short-term, the Dutchman has also showcased his desire to look to the future in his Old Trafford tenure to date, having already put his faith in the club’s promising youth products.
The most obvious breakout star so far this season has been that of Alejandro Garnacho – with the 18-year-old having provided eight goal involvements in 28 games in all competitions – although the Argentine is not alone in having forced his way into the first-team picture, as fellow teenager Kobbie Mainoo has also been handed a chance to shine of late.
While the 17-year-old has only made three senior outings thus far, those brief cameos are a marker of just how highly thought of he is by those at the club, with it undoubtedly rare to see a player of his age making a mark for an elite club.
Even despite the Englishman not earning a place in the matchday squad for Sunday’s win at Wembley, the youngster still appeared to be on the mind of Ten Hag, with the former Ajax boss seeking out his emerging star for a chat amid the ongoing celebrations.
Although it is not clear with the 53-year-old said to the promising midfielder, it perhaps represents he is seen as a figure who could go on to be a key part of the club’s success in the years to come, with the Red Devils’ conveyor belt of young talent continuing to prove fruitful.
Journalist Pete O’Rourke – speaking to Football FanCast – certainly believes that Mainoo’s emergence is a real positive for the Premier League side, having stated:
“So yeah, it’s obviously impressive for Manchester United, the players that are coming through the academy like Garnacho and Mainoo.
“So it can only be good for the club who’ve had a long history of producing their own players that these players are coming along and you know, making inroads into the first team.”
Could Kobbie Mainoo be Man Utd’s own Jude Bellingham?
The aim now will be for the teenage sensation to solidify a regular role in the side moving forward, with Mainoo likely hoping that he proves to be the long-term solution in the centre of the park, with the likes of Christian Eriksen, Fred and Casemiro all in and around their thirties.
The recent suggestion has been that the club are keen on landing another exciting English talent in the form of Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham – after previously missing out on the 19-year-old’s signature in 2020 – albeit with rivals Liverpool also firmly in the mix for the player’s signature.
Even if United are to fend off the Merseysiders in the pursuit of the former Birmingham City gem, any deal is likely to cost as much as €150m (£131m), hence the potential desire to avoid splashing the cash by turning to Mainoo instead.
Like Bellingham – who can operate as both a defensive-minded midfield asset or in a more creative berth – the England U18 international also has the capability and versatility to feature all across the midfield, with youth coach Travis Binnion having stated earlier this year:
“In recent weeks, we’ve seen him play as a 6, 8 and 10, and that shows the making of a really good football brain and an athletic capability to play throughout the pitch and play in different roles and systems. He’s progressing nicely.
“His strengths are close control, good awareness, body contact. He’s really good in both boxes, he’s combative. He’s got a nice blend of many skills. He’s been training with the first team and doing well. He’s been really consistent.
“With young players, they’re up, they’re down, and sometimes they get carried away with themselves. Then they get a reality check and struggle to deal with it. The thing with Kobbie is that he comes into the club every day, he applies himself really well. He’s never too high, never too low. He’s got quite an old head on his shoulders.”
As Binnion noted in that final line, Mainoo’s maturity has been central to his impressive rise up the age groups of late, with the FA Youth Cup winner seemingly sharing such a trait with the aforementioned Bellingham, as the Dortmund star has already emerged as a “leader” in Germany, according to teammate Mats Hummels.
That mentality should ensure that the Stockport-born ace is able to replicate his compatriot in thriving at the top level at such a young age, with Bellingham having already scored 20 goals and provided 24 assists in 120 games for the Bundesliga side to date, despite still being in his teens.
The latter man’s example should show Ten Hag that taking the risk on a youngster can well prove worth it, with Mainoo potentially able to replicate the Three Lions machine by becoming a leading figure despite his relative youth.