Kobbie Mainoo’s Macheda moment in front of watching England eyes shows huge summer lies ahead

Kobbie Mainoo – Kobbie Mainoo's Macheda moment in front of watching England eyes shows huge summer lies ahead

It was 15 years ago this week that Federico Macheda turned Luke Young on a sixpence and curled a sublime finish into the far corner to secure a dramatic 3-2 win over Aston Villa in stoppage time. The Stretford End erupted and, to this day, Macheda, then only 17, insists he has never heard a noise like it.

Whether Kobbie Mainoo’s virtual replica of Macheda’s moment of magic deals as big a blow to Liverpool’s title hopes this season as that goal did in April 2009 remains to be seen.

But the greatest surprise would be if Mainoo’s burgeoning Manchester United career fizzles out like Macheda’s did.

Within four years of that dramatic intervention, Macheda was plying his trade at Doncaster Rovers. He never did get close to replicating that flicker of brilliance and is currently seeing out his playing days in Turkey with Ankaragucu.

Mainoo was still a couple of weeks shy of his fourth birthday when Macheda wrote his name into Old Trafford folklore but this is one teenager who promises to be a whole lot more than a momentary flash in the pan.

The 18-year-old has probably already played his way into the England squad for the Euros this summer but the question centres more around whether he actually starts in midfield alongside Declan Rice against Serbia on June 16 and moments like this will do his chances no harm.

With Steve Holland, Gareth Southgate’s assistant watching from the stands along with United’s new kingmaker, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Mainoo offered another vivid reminder of his copious talent to again leave the Stretford End in raptures and Liverpool reeling.

It was not simply the 180 degree pivot and exquisite swish of his right boot, as gorgeous as they were and all from almost an identical position to where Macheda had given Young twisted blood.

It was the way he had instigated the attack in the first place, collecting Casemiro’s aerial ball and driving nonchalantly forward with that regal, stately stride of his before drilling a pass into Alejandro Garnacho, then drifting into the box and pointing exactly to where he wanted the ball back from Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

What followed was the work of a youngster with supreme confidence, a goal every bit as good as his arresting winner in the 4-3 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers two months earlier. Mainoo jogged over to the corner flag, placed a hand on top of it and then saluted to a jubilant crowd with the other as Garnacho jumped on his back, wrapped an arm around his neck and gave him a kiss.

Kobbie Mainoo – Kobbie Mainoo's Macheda moment in front of watching England eyes shows huge summer lies ahead
Kobbie Mainoo became the youngest player to score a Premier League goal against Liverpool - AP/Dave Thompson

“Of course it’s an unbelievable feeling my first professional Old Trafford goal,” Mainoo said. “We didn’t come away with the three points so you can’t be too happy but it felt good so I think I got a bit ahead of myself when it went in!”

There is an arrogance to Mainoo’s football on the pitch that all the best United players have had down the years but a humility off it. He may have upgraded cars to a club issue Mercedes A-Class and BMW 4x4 this season but he still parks at the front of United’s training ground instead of round the back where the first-team stars leave their vehicles.

Is it Mainoo’s way of saying he still has a lot to prove and a long way to go yet? It is certainly hard to see the fanfare going to his head any time soon. His favourite drink is water and, in Mainoo’s world, a treat is a Nando’s.

Little seems to ruffle him, on or off the pitch, and he is as comfortable it seems in tight areas deep in his own third as he is in the opposition penalty area, a player with the traits of a 6, 8 and 10. At times this season, he has been caught ahead of the ball, with Casemiro isolated, and that was true again in the first half in particular against Liverpool.

Yet that seems to be more a consequence of Mainoo following his manager’s instructions than any tactical shortcomings on the player’s part. Mainoo has been asked to operate as a No 8 alongside Brunp Fernandes, rather than an additional sentry next to Casemiro, and the structural flaws and lack of compactness in Ten Hag’s side are on the manager, not the young midfielder.

“I feel like it’s just little mistakes on the ball, off the ball – they happen in games but they can be detrimental and they cost us,” Mainoo said when asked to explain United’s struggles to stem the tide of Liverpool attacks.

That may have been underselling it somewhat but Mainoo, along with Garnacho and Rasmus Hojlund, represent the future of this United side, just as he offers Southgate an interesting solution to a potential problem position for England this summer.

Impressive on his first England start against Belgium last month, it would be exciting to see Mainoo lining up alongside other rich young talents like Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka in Germany. And days like this only enhance his case.

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