Kobbie Mainoo: Who is Man Utd's newest star?

By Anish Dogra 28 Nov 2023
Kobbie Mainoo

We profile 18-year-old Academy graduate who shone on first Premier League start in 3-0 win at Everton

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Manchester United have a rich history of bringing players through their Academy, from the "Busby Babes", to the "Fergie Fledglings", who formed the spine of the most successful team in Premier League history.

Kobbie Mainoo is the latest name to add to that long, long list of homegrown talent for Man Utd.

The 18-year-old was given his first Premier League start against Everton on Sunday by Erik ten Hag and the midfielder repaid the faith shown by his manager as he shone in an emphatic 3-0 win.

But who is the player born only 20 minutes away from Old Trafford and who has been at the club since the age of nine?

Mainoo's beginnings

Mainoo born in Stockport, Greater Manchester, on 19 April 2005, first played for Cheadle & Gatley Junior Football Club before joining United in 2014.   

He graduated to Man Utd's Under-18s in 2021 and excelled under the guidance of Travis Binnion. 

Mainoo's eye for a pass and technical ability stood out as he played 10 times for the club in the U18 Premier League, and once in the FA Youth Cup.

“His strengths are close control, good awareness, body contact," Mainoo's Under-18 coach told The Athletic in 2022. "He’s really good in both boxes, he’s combative. He’s got a nice blend of many skills."

Kobbie Mainoo
Mainoo in action against Leeds United in an U18 Premier League match on 28 August 2021

Mainoo progressed the following season, playing 31 times in all competitions, scoring four goals and supplying two assists.

Two of those goals were crucial in Man Utd's run to the FA Youth Cup final, as they won the trophy for the first time in a decade, beating Nottingham Forest.

Mainoo, Nottingham Forest

The 2022/23 campaign would be Mainoo's breakout year. He made 13 appearances in Premier League 2 before being given the chance to impress Ten Hag.

He made appearances in the Premier League and FA Cup, while his first senior start for Man Utd came in the 3-0 EFL Cup victory over Charlton Athletic, a competition United went on to win. Mainoo also signed a new long-term contract in February this year.

Mainoo v Charlton
Mainoo in action against Charlton in the EFL Cup
Injury setback

The 2023/24 season was set to be Mainoo's breakthrough campaign in the first team. He was named in the squad for the club's pre-season tour to the United States, with Ten Hag speaking glowingly of the midfielder. 

"He gets his chance because he deserves it," Ten Hag said on 21 July before Man Utd's friendly against Arsenal. "Because he showed it in the Under-21s and in our training.

"He showed a high level and now he has to show it in games. So pre-season is perfect to test him.

"He is an option to get into the game squad and to get playtime. We will see but I am confident he can do it and we have to wait we have test if it is going to happen."

But after starting and impressing in the first three matches, Mainoo suffered a setback in his fourth. Early on against Real Madrid, he suffered an ankle injury after Brazilian forward Rodrygo landed on his leg following a tackle from Casemiro, ruling him out for three months.

Mainoo v Real Madrid
Mainoo was withdrawn in the sixth minute against Real Madrid
Impressive first start

With injuries to several players ahead of Man Utd's match at Everton, Ten Hag decided to entrust Mainoo against an opponent who were unbeaten in four matches across all competitions.

Mainoo shone at the base of Man Utd's midfield, completing 83 per cent of his 46 passes, having 61 touches, producing 12 ball carries and more impressively keeping Man Utd's 1-0 lead intact, clearing a shot off the line with Idrissa Gueye inches away from bringing Everton level.

Mainoo v Everton
Mainoo (No 37) did superbly to keep Man Utd in front against Everton

Though many of the headlines were dominated by Alejandro Garnacho's stunning overhead kick, Mainoo was just as impressive and won Man Utd's Man of the Match award.

"He has a lot of abilities," said Ten Hag at full-time about Mainoo. "It was a really disappointing moment in pre-season when he got so badly injured, for him and our team, because I know he can progress a lot if he plays many such games as today.

"I know players — especially young players — will develop very quickly and we thought it was the moment to bring him in. We prepared him properly, but he did a great job and now he has to build from this."

Mainoo also received widespread praise from pundits for his performance at Goodison Park.

"There's an 18-year-old out there who looks more composed than anyone," said former United Academy graduate Gary Neville during his commentary for Sky Sports. "Mainoo has been Manchester United's best player by a street. A brilliant, brilliant Premier League debut from him."

Man Utd legend Roy Keane and former Red Devils midfielder Owen Hargreaves were also impressed.

"He looked like he always had time on the ball today, his decision-making, in terms of when to go long, when to go short, in terms of off the ball as well. What an all-round performance," Keane said.

Hargreaves added: "He was Man Utd's best player. A lot of young kids wouldn't have the composure [but] he picked the right pass at the right time.

"He looks like he has an awareness from an 18-year-old that you wouldn't ordinarily see."

With midfielders Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Mason Mount injured, United are stretched for options in the middle of the park.

But in Mainoo, a player who has a plaque at the Carrington training ground after winning the club's 2022/23 Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award, United have a player who can fill the void and join an illustrious list of homegrown stars.


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