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Mason Greenwood needs time and patience… and he’ll get that under Solskjaer at Man Utd

February 28, 2020

ANOTHER positive – and much needed – run for Manchester United, another good week for Mason Greenwood. Bruno Fernandes, Fred and Anthony Martial grabbed the headlines for their performances, goals and assists, but Greewood’s goal in United’s 3-0 win against Watford was one of the best of the season.

The 18-year-old, in his first league start of the year, broke forward on a 50-yard run, swapped passes with Fernandes and then drove the ball past Ben Foster off the underside of the crossbar into the top left corner of the Stretford End goal.

On Thursday night, Greenwood came on for Scott McTominay in the 5-0 win against Club Brugge, showed beautiful control of a ball from Luke Shaw and shot just wide after 90 minutes but couldn’t add to the 11 goals which have made him the youngest United player since '80s hero Norman Whiteside to reach double figures in a season. Whiteside played for a team who didn’t play in the European Cup and not always in Europe, Greenwood became the youngest ever United player to score in Europe earlier this season.

Few were sad when Romelu Lukaku left United for big money – which isn’t something the club excel in getting when selling players – and headed to Inter Milan. He’s doing well and that’s fine for him, but what concerned United fans as this season went on was the failure to replace him, an issue which became acute when Marcus Rashford was injured. That became more pressing when Greenwood was ineffective at Manchester City in the League Cup semi-final. It was too much expecting a callow striker in his opening season in the first team to stand out against the favourites for this season’s European Cup.

United signed the bundle of enthusiasm that is Odion Ighalo on loan a few days later and, with plenty of games on three fronts, he’s likely to be used alongside Greenwood who has stepped up and been a success. It was less than a year ago when Greenwood's family were being offered life-changing amounts of money for him to leave, with offers from Germany and Italy.

He doesn’t need to go to Dortmund to get games; he’s in the right place at the right time at United with a manager who gives young players a chance. United told Greenwood to be patient, that he was at the right club and that the manager was pre-disposed to go with youth. They also gave him a new contract. There are no guarantees, especially with young players and especially with young strikers, but all of those decisions have been vindicated.

Greenwood has done what James Wilson, a previous emerging striker, didn’t and looked worthy of his first team place. It’s hard for any young player to establish himself at a top club with the pressure and instant expectation and sudden interest in you on and off the field. Tahith Chong, who replaced Greenwood after 80 minutes on Sunday, has yet to find his feet in the first team. He too has been offered a lot of money to leave, but United are right not to be pressured by someone who needs to earn a bigger contract rather than demand it.   

Greenwood is worthy of his promotion. He’s scored more Premier League goals than any teenager this season, more than any player under 19 in Europe’s top five leagues. We say under 19 because 19-year-old Haaland is outperforming any young striker.

United’s squad has been stretched but the temptation to play Greenwood more frequently has been resisted. The club want to keep his feet on the ground, want him to be good person as well as a great footballer. They know he’s massively talented, a two-footed finisher who can become a superstar and win games for United, but they also think he has much to learn about becoming a top level professional footballer.

The message from the coaches seems to be getting through and there are good people around him to make sure it does. He’s played over 1,500 minutes of first team football, 573 of them in the Premier League. He’s played almost as many in the Europa League, proof that this competition was better for United’s younger players, if not the club’s balance sheet, than the Champions League this season.

Last Sunday against Watford was Greenwood’s first league start since the Boxing Day win against Newcastle. He scored in that one too. He was chosen ahead of Ighalo and justified the selection. Usually used wide rather than in a central role, it’s Greenwood's instinctive finishing which most impressed his manager. Solskjaer habitually praises his players but he’s raved about Greenwood stating “for natural finishing he’s one of the best I’ve seen” or “in and around the box you expect him to get a shot on target. He’s so precise in his finishing and good at creating spaces for himself, right foot, left foot, it doesn’t matter. He is a nightmare for defenders. He just needs to develop his heading and then he will be a proper striker. I’ve seen a few good ones – I played with Wayne Rooney.”

Solskjaer reiterated that this week, describing him as “the best finisher we have” and “he’s just so sharp around the goal”.  Bradford-born Greenwood is composed in front of goal, confident too. His doesn’t look like an awe-struck player in his first season after making the vast jump from under 23s football. He strikes the ball where you don't expect him to, something regular watchers of United’s youth and reserve teams started to pick out.  He shoots with his left and his right, he plays on the left or the right or as a central or second striker. He’s quick, not only in his movement but his speed of thought.

Greenwood, like his manager, needs time, patience and support, but there’s a real feeling at the club that he’ll become a top level striker alongside another home grown player, Marcus Rashford. The sun is starting to shine through those grey Mancunian clouds.