Teenage hotshot Greenwood giving Red Devils touch of Fergie-era finesse
LONDON－Manchester United has spent more than $1.2 billion on new players over the past nine years but the Red Devils’ latest revival owes much to a homegrown star in 18-year-old academy graduate Mason Greenwood.
The young forward was the star of the show against Bournemouth last weekend as United scored five goals in the Premier League at Old Trafford for the first time since 2011.
Greenwood smashed high into the Bournemouth net, first with his left foot and then with his right as free-flowing United won 5-2 in a style rarely seen since legendary manager Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
In his first season with the first team, Greenwood has scored 15 goals despite making just 18 starts in all competitions.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who earned the tag “baby-faced assassin” for his finishing prowess as a player at Old Trafford, rates the club’s latest prodigy as “one of the best－if not the best－finisher I have worked with and seen”.
Greenwood’s second against Bournemouth was particularly eye-catching as he spun onto his supposedly weaker right foot before crashing the ball with such power that Aaron Ramsdale couldn’t keep it out despite getting a hand to it.
“It’s freakish,” said former United striker Andy Cole. “He can go either side and you know he’s going to produce that kind of quality.”
Revitalized by the January signing of Portuguese playmaker Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon, United was in fine form before soccer’s three-month coronavirus shutdown.
But far from seeing its momentum slowed, the manner in which Solskjaer’s men have returned has raised hopes they could even mount a title challenge to Liverpool and Manchester City next season.
Greenwood did not let the lockdown period go to waste as he reportedly gained three kilograms of muscle mass.
“Mason is looking more and more like a man,” said Solskjaer prior to the season’s restart.
It has shown on the field as the teenager has started three consecutive Premier League games for the first time, during which United has scored 11 goals.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial’s goals against Bournemouth took them to the 20-goal mark for the season. With an average age of just 21, United’s front three look to have the potential to bring back the glory days of the Ferguson era in the coming years.
“He’s always eager to learn and he reminds me, mentality-wise, of how I was when I was younger,” said 22-year-old Rashford. “If you keep learning, there’s no limit to what you can become.”
United’s immediate future is focused on securing a return to the Champions League, with a trip to relegation-threatened Aston Villa next up on Thursday.
The swagger and speed with which United has played in the past three games has come, significantly, in the only three matches Fernandes and Paul Pogba have started together.
Pogba seemed destined to leave Old Trafford for the second time in his career prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, with finances tighter across European soccer, it is unlikely interest from Real Madrid will materialize this summer.
For the first time in his second spell at United, Pogba’s role in the midfield suits his skill-set, with the more defense-minded Nemanja Matic providing the platform for the French World Cup winner and Fernandes to share the creative burden.
“We know that they (Rashford, Martial and Greenwood) can score goals, we know that they’ve got pace, energy, they’re youthful, they’ll learn, they’ll improve,” added Solskjaer.
“With the players that we have that can provide the passes with Paul and Bruno, the creativity that we have got in the team now is exciting.”