Forget Casemiro, lifting a trophy and the almost certain return of Champions League football next year, the biggest plus point of Manchester United’s season has been the emergence of Alejandro Garnacho.
The clamour for Garnacho to be given a chance in the senior team started at the back end of last season following his exploits in the FA Youth Cup, a tournament United won to give their supporters a modicum of consolation during a horrendous campaign for the senior side.
While Garnacho made his debut before the season’s close, appearing in a drab draw with Chelsea last April, he had to wait until the current campaign to become a household name.
Erik ten Hag trusted the winger throughout United’s Europa League campaign and fans have seen increasingly regular glimpses of the youngster’s potential.
Despite setting up the winner against Manchester City in January, Ten Hag has resisted the urge to make Garnacho a regular on the team-sheet and has prefered to nurture his young starlet slowly.
And his strategy has paid off in recent weeks; the 18-year-old scored the clinching goal against Wolves and dazzled during his second-half cameo at Bournemouth on Saturday.
Replacing Jadon Sancho with 20 minutes remaining, Garnacho tore into the Cherries’ defence like the family cat attacking a stray pigeon.
Full of tenacity, guts and the determination to make his opponents look silly, Garnacho goaded Dango Ouattara with the kind of stop-start acceleration usually associated with mopeds.
But the United forward was cuter than the teenage-favourite vehicle, using the pause to draw Ouattara into his orbit before zooming past the Bournemouth man and his despairing challenge.
Garnacho’s ability to change his pace on 1v1’s is insane.
— ☈ッ (@TheFergusonWay) May 21, 2023
In a recent interview with William Hill, United legend Andy Cole predicted that Garnacho could become an all-time great at Old Trafford.
“I think Garnacho has a fantastic future ahead of him if he can keep his head down,” Cole said. “He’s going to have a big future. Everyone is talking about him because he’s very direct, he’s not afraid to get the ball and take players on. In today’s game, you don’t see as much of that.
“A lot of young kids come into the team and just do what they’re good at. The manager has tried to blood him in slowly, but I think next season will be a really big season for him.”
“Obviously, we know Garna can change games,” Bruno Fernandes said after Garnacho scored in the recent victory over Wolves. “He plays with pace, he can take players one against one.
“But he’s still developing himself, so we don’t have to go and push so much on him because he’s still a young kid.
“He can do great things, but in the future, he has to do much better than actually he is doing because he has more than the capability to be even better than he is actually (right now).
“He’s been doing amazing for the first season he’s been playing in the Premier League, with more minutes, with more consistency. He’s doing great, but we all know he can do much more for us.”
Garnacho recently signed a new deal keeping him at Old Trafford until 2028 after winning over Ten Hag with his exciting performances and improved attitude.
“At the beginning of the season, the manager didn’t give him any chances because he thought that he wasn’t being the best, and now he’s getting his chances,” Fernandes said.
“He’s been playing a lot this season because he’s training well, he’s doing what he has to do and he’s getting his rewards – and the team are getting the rewards as well, and that’s the most important thing.”
Hopes are high that Garnacho will build on his promising season next time around – and we suspect the list of opponents embarrassed by his delightful skills will only increase.
By Michael Lee