After what feels like an eternity of aimlessly signing midfielders and trying to fill a gaping hole left by Michael Carrick, the answer to Manchester United’s prayers has turned out to be an in-house 18-year-old.
A very uniquely United problem has been dealt with in a way that only they could; spending hundreds of millions of pounds on every kind of midfielder imaginable, but ruining them all and losing eye-watering amounts of money.
The Schmidfield, project unlock Paul Pogba, McFred – they’ve tried it all. Some lacked form, some lacked function; most of them lacked the lot when it mattered most.
There appears to be a mythical curse that lives within the United shirts. When a talented midfielder pulls it on, they suddenly lose all of the powers that made them so special in the first case.
Kobbie Mainoo is undoing that curse, though, one outrageous performance at a time.
The latest in a string of generational young prospects to make us feel utterly talentless, Mainoo has been in the setup at United since the age of nine and has looked destined for greatness at pretty much every single age group for club and country.
Erik ten Hag hasn’t been without criticism in recent weeks and was the subject of plenty last season for not integrating the 18-year-old sooner after his senior debut against Charlton in the EFL Cup, but the way he’s hit the ground running this season after recovering from injury has been all part of the plan.
A stellar pre-season campaign followed by an injury that kept him out until November, which didn’t help in relieving the pressure from the young man’s shoulders.
Was he bothered, though? Obviously not. The kid’s a freak – and his Premier League debut away to Everton was the proof in the pudding. Ten Hag had been letting a generational talent simmer behind the scenes, before bringing him to the boil this season.
He was back in from the start as United returned to Merseyside to take on Liverpool, with a follow-up to the infamous 7-0 thrashing feeling more inevitable than a Lynx body set on Christmas Day.
What people didn’t account for, however, was Mainoo being an absolute freak, capable of combining sexy with ugly to use Anfield as his canvas as United pegged back their rivals to a goalless draw.
Tasked with doing the jobs of three players, Mainoo’s performance resembled that of the token academy player at five-a-side – given the ball and relied upon way too much, but almost always coming up good with a piece of skill or a moment that has your jaw off its hinges.
Slight hesitation from Alejandro Garnacho and a tackle from Trent Alexander-Arnold robbed Mainoo of what would’ve been a truly disgraceful assist.
THAT Mainoo pass.
Kind of quality to make grown men cry happy tears. pic.twitter.com/G4d48WMd83
— A D 🛑🔰 (@UtdDefence) December 18, 2023
Come on, Kobbie. You’re showing the rest of them up.
From the drift inside to the first touch, he makes it look ridiculously easy away to United’s bitter rivals, before bending an inch-perfect pass into his attacking colleague which desperately needed finishing.
In just three Premier League games, he’s established himself as quite possibly the best/most important player in Ten Hag’s squad right now.
That is obscene for several reasons. Yes, United are that much of a car crash right now between the injuries and inconsistencies among the available players, but it’s also a testament to just how annoyingly promising Mainoo is.
Rocking up to Anfield and being thrown in from the start, the teenager extinguished all heat with a combative display off the ball and cranked it up himself with a stylistic display littered with dazzling passes and sharp touches.
United have been here before, though, and let a generational talent shoulder too much of the problem before they inevitably crumble.
It’s now up to Ten Hag and the rest of his squad to match Mainoo’s level and provide conditions for his obscene potential to be sustainably fulfilled.
By Mitch Wilks