Tuesday, July 23, 2024

We thought England had just one generational talent but Mainoo has us dreaming

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AND we all thought England had just the one generational talent.

Kobbie Mainoo was effectively brought to Germany as a work experience kid but has emerged as the key kid behind this country’s attempt to rewrite history.

Kobbie Mainoo was a stand out performer as England beat the Netherlands to reach the final of Euro 2024Credit: AFP
Jude Bellingham may not be the Three Lions’ only generational talentCredit: Reuters

After just five senior starts, England’s new boy wonder will now have a teenage tear-up against Spain’s Lamine Yamal in the Euro 2024 final.

Against the Netherlands, he did not merely become England’s youngest ever player to feature in a semi-final of a major tournament, aged 19 years and 82 days.

Here, he took this semi-final by the scruff of the neck, delivered a performance which was a joy to watch, particularly in the first half, and now England are in their first final on foreign soil.

If Jude Bellingham thought he was certain to be England’s main posterboy over the next decade, he has someone else who has now emerged in his wing mirror within just a few weeks.

To bag an FA Cup winners’ medal at the age of 19 was impressive. To then win Euro 2024 a couple of months later would be extraordinary.

As we saw with Manchester United, Mainoo has now fitted seamlessly into the team and provided a perfect mix of both style and substance.

Give it a couple of years, and you can only imagine how good this lad is going to be.

For much of this tournament, the focus has been on the disappointing form of Harry Kane, Bellingham and Phil Foden.


So Mainoo, to a degree, had almost been off the radar. But against the Dutch, In tight, congested spaces, he was a class apart.

When he was put under pressure, remained cool, navigated his way out of difficult situations and drove forward.

Man Utd fans say ‘the aura is crazy’ after Kobbie Mainoo’s brilliant response about his ‘nickname’

Despite what was at stake, Mainoo once again looked extraordinarily composed and was England’s best player in the first half. He won possession, he rode tackles and he drove forward like an old master.

He nearly delivered an assist at 1-1 with some brilliant play.

He received the ball from Foden, turned and drove forward before returning the ball to his team-mate but the shot was hacked off the line by Denzel Dumfries

Mainoo delivered a terrific block to snuff out some serious danger in a lightning-quick Dutch counter attack.

In the second half, he had less space in midfield but nevertheless still had bags of energy and kept his discipline positionally – and then he let subs Cole Palmer and Ollie Watkins deliver the business.

It is still mind-boggling that Mainoo is now heading to Berlin on Sunday, when you consider he only made his United debut against Charlton in the Carabao Cup in January 2023.

His first Premier League start was just eight months ago.

Yet it was his dazzling midfield form in an otherwise dysfunctional United team which earned him his first cap as a substitute against Brazil in March.

He was then man-of-the-match in a ridiculously-good performance in the 2-2 draw with Belgium.

Mainoo made his England debut off the bench against Brazil in MarchCredit: Getty
He was named Player of the Match for his performance against Belgium for his second capCredit: Getty
The teenager scored an FA Cup final goal at Wembley to help Manchester United lift the trophy last seasonCredit: Getty

Mainoo’s form dipped in the last few weeks of the season. It was probably because he was knackered carrying some of his team-mates.

But he then saved them again in the FA Cup final against Manchester City with a man-of-the-match performance in a 2-1 win.

A bit like Adam Wharton, he was part of England’s 26-man squad to soak up the experience, to learn what it is like to feature in a major tournament and maybe, if needed, to have a few cameo roles off the bench.

And the fact he was effectively Southgate’s third-choice to partner Declan Rice here in Germany tells you exactly where he stood in a squad of 26.

The Trent Alexander-Arnold midfield failed in the two opening games against Serbia and Denmark.

Conor Gallagher – despite some bright performances as a sub in those games – really struggled in his start against Slovenia.

Apart from a strong appearance as a substitute by Palmer, Mainoo’s performance against Slovakia was the only bright spot in a dismal and extremely fortunate win over Slovakia in the last 16.

There was always a worry about Mainoo’s movement when England do not have possession but that will come with experience, like it would for any other central midfielder.

Yet Mainoo has solved the problem for Southgate and now England can continue to dream big.

And it is totally unthinkable from where you consider how they played in the group stages when they stunk out Germany.

In Sunday’s final, England’s experienced players will be able to draw on the pain of both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020.

For Mainoo, this will be a completely new experience but do not expect him to wilt. He’ll absolutely love it.

Mainoo did the dirty work to allow Watkins and Palmer to shine when England won the game late onCredit: Reuters
Mainoo and the rest of the Three Lions will face Spain in the Euro 2024 final on SundayCredit: Getty

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