The 18-year-old is playing with the maturity of a seasoned veteran.

Are you watching, Southgate? Kobbie Mainoo is cooler than a bomb disposal expert

Manchester United can never make it easy for themselves; with a 2-0 lead after 10 minutes against a side with a fraction of their budget, Erik ten Hag’s side spent the rest of the afternoon stepping on rakes and somehow getting away with it.

Rasmus Hojlund continued his transformation into prime Gerd Muller with a couple of opportunistic strikes, while Andre Onana produced the kind of form that prompted United to sign him in the first place.

While Ten Hag was relieved to escape from deepest Bedfordshire with the points, he surely must have been concerned with United’s continued habit of playing with their food. With one exception.

In contrast with Bruno Fernandes, who sent a wild shot towards the goal when even members of an uncivilised Amazon tribe would’ve taken the ball to the corner, Kobbie Mainoo was excellent once again at the heart of United’s midfield.

When Mainoo got the ball, he kept it. The 18-year-old was unmoved by the feral Kenilworth Road atmosphere and exhibited the level of poise that’s normally associated with ballerinas.

Several pirouettes were seen, scattered across Mainoo’s performance like basil on a Neopolitan pizza, along with stepovers to create space and one poke through the legs of Amari’i Bell.

It was an exhibition of technical quality from a central midfielder. And not just in teenage terms; Mainoo’s display was as good as any United midfielder has produced in the post-Ferguson era.

It’s not just at club level that Mainoo is getting supporters hot under the collar; with Euro 2024 just four months, the clamour for the Stockport native to be on the plane to Germany is starting to rise.

After United’s 2-1 victory, former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright posted on X: “Kobbie Mainoo has to be in the next England squad.

“Such maturity in chaotic conditions that we’ve not seen from an England player in a long time. Impressed every time I watch him.”

Match of the Day host and crisp enthusiast Gary Lineker replied: “Agreed @IanWright0. What a fabulous young player.”

Speaking at the Nations League draw in Paris last week, Gareth Southgate remarked: “I think Mainoo is doing brilliantly for a young player. He’s had an excellent start for Manchester United.

“I’m not certain he’s necessarily going to be a defensive midfielder, as such. He’s quite a progressive player, but he’s had a fabulous start to his career and it will be good to monitor him as we go forward.”

With Jordan Henderson on a four-month winless streak and Kalvin Phillips soiling himself at West Ham, there’s an opening in England’s midfield for a technically accomplished and ice-cool midfielder.

There’s no better candidate for the role right now than Mainoo. Age is just a number.

At club level, when an 18-year-old with just 11 Premier League starts to his name before Sunday’s match was the one bringing some calm and control to proceedings, then you know United have a problem.

Not until they take Mainoo’s industry and excellence and clone it 11 times will United have a shot at clambering back onto their perch.

By Michael Lee

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