Kobbie Mainoo called up to England senior squad to continue meteoric rise

Kobbie Mainoo at St George's Park after being promoted to the England squad

The Manchester United teenager Kobbie Mainoo was a surprise addition to Gareth Southgate’s already well-resourced 25-man squad with the England manager facing possible withdrawals or unavailability among his current midfield selection.

Mainoo, 18, was named in Lee Carsley’s Under-21s squad last week but over the course of five days – and one famous Manchester United FA Cup quarter-final win over Liverpool – he has been moved up to the senior squad. Football Association officials have not announced any withdrawals, although it is understood that Jordan Henderson is carrying a minor injury that may affect his availability.

The England manager only named five midfielders in the original squad list, alongside nine players among the forwards. Southgate had not mentioned Mainoo at his squad presentation on Thursday and has since fast-tracked the teenager. It demonstrates just how far Kalvin Phillips has fallen in Southgate’s list of dependables that the manager has dipped into the Under-21s for a replacement.

Mainoo, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, has been a regular in England’s junior sides at Under-17, Under-18 and Under-19s level but is yet even to win a cap for the Under-21s. He has played just 27 senior games for his club.

Speaking to the FA’s in-house media, Mainoo said: “I got called up the Under-21s and then I got a text from Steve Holland [Southgate’s assistant] telling me to come and meet him at reception [at St George’s Park], and he just told me I’ve been called up, and I’m going to be training with the squad for the week. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet, but I’m excited.”

Mainoo, like many of his generation, has dual-nationality and could also represent Ghana through his parents. Southgate has never shown any inclination in the past to cap players simply because they might have other international representation options. Realistically, it would not be until the summer that Ghana could make another play for Mainoo, even were he to be interested.

As England’s talent pool has become that much deeper in recent years, Southgate has also preferred to allow young players to take their time in the Under-21s rather than promote rapidly. He has been able to do so with more options than his predecessors. Anthony Gordon, still uncapped, was one of the standout players in the Under-21 European Championship triumph last summer and now has his first call-up to the seniors at the age of 23.

From that squad, Jarrad Branthwaite and Cole Palmer, both 21, have also made Southgate’s senior selection although others like Harvey Elliott and Noni Madueke have remained in the Under-21s. Curtis Jones, the Liverpool attacking midfielder would have been in the squad, Southgate said, were it not  for his injuries.

It has been an astonishing rise for Mainoo who only played his first United game of this season at Goodison Park at the end of November after a period out with an ankle injury picked up on the summer tour. He made his debut in January last year – one of three senior games last season. He has become a regular in the biggest games in recent months, starting in the defeat by Manchester City and then Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Liverpool.

Mainoo was part of the FA Youth Cup winning team of 2022 in which Alejandro Garnacho also played. A child prodigy who grew up playing his club football for Cheadle and Gatley football club. The big question is his best position. England are very short of a natural playmaker in a deep midfield position. Mainoo has presented as more of a No 8, an attacking midfielder capable of scoring goals as he did with that spectacular winner against Wolverhampton Wanderers in February.

There is one key position up for grabs in the three-man midfield of what is likely to be Southgate’s first choice team for Euro 2024, that of a more deep-lying midfielder alongside Declan Rice with Jude Bellingham ahead of the pair.

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