Kobbie Mainoo: Man United’s calm breakout star they cannot keep quiet any longer

Close to £1.7bn has been spent, and largely wasted, in the decade of decay since Sir Alex Ferguson left, but Manchester United have perhaps finally found a “generational talent” capable of leading them into a brighter future. And he cost absolutely nothing.

Keeping a lid on Kobbie Mainoo’s talents has been quite the task at Old Trafford in the last 12 months, but having added goals to his other-worldly midfield abilities, United cannot keep his secret any longer.

“How does he even do that, at 18?” remarked one United coach after witnessing Mainoo’s sensational 97th-minute winner at Molineux. “He is sat in the dressing room like it is nothing at all.”

Mainoo scored late on to see United beat Wolves (Manchester United via Getty Imag)
Mainoo scored late on to see United beat Wolves (Manchester United via Getty Imag)

Mainoo had been earmarked for a prominent role in the first-team this term after an impressive pre-season, but an ankle injury curtailed Erik ten Hag’s plans. The teenager’s absence was regularly brought up by the Dutchman as he fished for excuses for the latest United omnishambles.

Since Mainoo impressed with some effervescent mid-season displays, there has been an understanding that Ten Hag was on to something.

Following earlier impressive games just before a trip to Liverpool, Mainoo was handed another start against United’s fiercest rivals. a One particular moment, 10 minutes into his Anfield bow, alerted a wider audience to the starlet’s potential. An Andre Onana pass headed Mainoo’s way just below head height and a flick-on seemed to be the Stockport teenager’s best option, with Wataru Endo breathing down his neck. Instead, without a second’s thought, he welcomed the ball onto his chest, darted back inside, before laying the ball off to Antony.

The sheer audacity, on his third Premier League start, to do that in front of the biggest Anfield crowd in 60 years, was simply extraordinary.

Fast forward six weeks and shock and awe is what greeted his winner at Molineux as United somehow, having been pegged back to 3-3 when the game was seemingly wrapped up at 3-1 with five minutes left, snatched all three points in the seventh minute of stoppage time.

A curled shot from distance yielded the winner (Getty Images)
A curled shot from distance yielded the winner (Getty Images)

The knives were being sharpened for Ten Hag. How had United shot themselves in the foot again? For long periods at Molineux, they put in their best performance of the season, but they cannot shake their inability to hold on to even the most comfortable lead.

Mainoo had other job-saving ideas. The control was exquisite. The sashay past two defenders showed the balance of a Cirque du Soleil tightrope walker, with the finish pinpoint in its accuracy.

And the celebration? Having just won your beleaguered, boyhood team a match that could, potentially, transform their fortunes? Calmness personified, one of a youngster who knows what direction their burgeoning career is heading in.

“A generational talent,” striker Rasmus Hojlund said after the exhilarating Black Country encounter. “You can see his composure, he is so relaxed on the ball. So much quality on the ball. Now he’s also starting to show that he has the scoring parts of his game as well. He’s a complete player.”

Such is the star potential, everyone is claiming Mainoo to be theirs.

Mainoo celebrates at Wolves (Getty Images)
Mainoo celebrates at Wolves (Getty Images)

“I think very quickly I saw him,” Ten Hag added. “I think last autumn I saw him for the first time and at that moment I thought he was playing a little bit too comfortable in the U21s. By pushing him in training you see he makes such good progress and he is almost progressing from game to game. Of course, it’s wonderful to see and I hope he stays calm like he is.”

The calmness is eery. Especially for a teenager with the world at his feet. Plenty of young talent has come through the United academy since the Class of ‘92, but none have had the longevity to match the exploits of their predecessors. Mainoo, however, has well and truly started his own path toward trying to buck that trend.