It takes a very special footballer to embrace the pressure of playing for Manchester United.
Even in the goldfish bowl of the Premier League, United stars have another level of scrutiny. Every performance is reviewed in microscopic detail, especially during a season where there have been too many disappointments.
But an 18-year-old from Stockport is currently epitomising the fearlessness and boldness that marked the great sides of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Kobbie Mainoo has been a breath of fresh air during a particularly pungent campaign at Old Trafford, settling into his midfield role and patrolling the park in his slippers.
Against Wigan, on a freezing night where the authorities picked a kick-off time singularly designed to leave thousands of United supporters stranded in the Greater Manchester outpost, Mainoo played with an authority that belied his tender years.
Often dropping deep to collect the ball, the United youngster was always eager to have the ball and instigate attacks with his rapid passing.
And he also helped Erik ten Hag’s side keep a clean sheet with a stretch and a yawn, making a number of interceptions to drain the enthusiasm from his League One opponents.
Mainoo’s commitment to doing the basics well may not sound revolutionary, but it already makes him a class apart in a United side that specialises in downing tools.
And the youngster’s seniority was evident in the way he held his own during a heated debate with Bruno Fernandes on one occasion. He already feels part of the furniture.
Stop that Mainoopic.twitter.com/CKQQ6ehSdS
— Stop That Manchester United (@Stopthatutd) January 8, 2024
After United’s 2-0 win, sending them through to face Newport County or Eastleigh in the only competition they can still realistically win, Ten Hag was pleased with his side’s performance.
“It’s all about the win but first half, the way we played, the performance, how we worked the ball, how we made our runs, the investment in the final third, we created a lot of chances and that was pleasing to see,” Ten Hag said.
“I think we should have scored more but the good thing is we created the chances.
“We have so many injuries and illnesses but still we put out a strong side. We had a good team, so we were confident before, we must win this game.
“You never underestimate any opponent, definitely not this side, you know they will fight for their life because it’s the game of their life, we took the game very good.”
Speaking to MUTV, former United striker Danny Webber says he spotted the United manager pulling Mainoo aside after Diogo Dalot’s opener.
Webber told the channel: “I saw Ten Hag pull over Kobbie Mainoo after we scored and have a word in his ear tosay keep your discipline, be professional, and that’s great.
“He sort of glides around the pitch. He doesn’t have to run and get in top gear because he reads the game so well. He shows the quality that he has with his feet.”
And former Champions League winner David May also commended Mainoo’s performance on MUTV.
“Kobbie played well, he covered the midfield and did what he had to do,” May said. “Very mature for his age.”
Whilst wary of proclaiming United’s ascent back to greatness of the basis of one result – too many journalists have singed limbs from such behaviour since 2013 – Mainoo is quietly making himself integral to the club’s future success.
With the Sir Jim Ratcliffe era about to begin in earnest, there’s no better time to make yourself a figurehead for a bright new future.
But, then again, Mainoo is already showing that great timing is his forte.
By Michael Lee