Mason Greenwood should be given green light by Man United upon injury return

Matt Jones - Editor 12:02 16/02/2019
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Mason Greenwood is seen as a rising star at Manchester United.

When Ole Gunnar Solskajer was appointed Manchester United manager, it seemed a senior Red Devils debut for Mason Greenwood might not be far behind.

Championing local talent and thrusting youngsters into the bright spotlight of the Old Trafford stage is a core component of the very fabric that makes up this club.

It is a legacy fans and commentators feared Jose Mourinho would jeopardise. And while the much-maligned Portuguese, perceived to be a killer of promising careers, was nowhere near the pantomime villain many critics painted him to be in that regard, he also wasn’t the right fit long term for a club famed for its academy and reputation of nurturing young talent.

In terms of the future – or the future of budding footballers rather – the appointment of Solskjaer seemed exactly the right fit. And in terms of the immediate future – with the club descending into turmoil and embarrassment under the increasingly spiky Mourinho – placing Solskjaer in charge felt like slipping into an old pair of comfortable slippers.

And for the most part, United have been in dreamland under the Norwegian’s tutelage – save for Tuesday’s 2-0 Champions League last 16 first-leg defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, a maiden defeat for the new man.

While bright light Marcus Rashford had actually shone under Mourinho, he has dazzled as United have surged under Solskjaer.

Even as a tough stretch of games approaches, Solskjaer might be tempted to throw Greenwood into the spotlight.

Solskjaer might have been tempted to throw Greenwood into the spotlight prior to his injury.

In line with tradition, the ‘Baby-faced Assassin’ has made youth and local talent the cornerstone of his revolt. It has been spearheaded by 21-year-old Rashford, the French flair of Anthony Martial, 23, and a revitalised Paul Pogba, 25.

Luke Shaw, 23, was one of the few players, if only one, soaring under Mourinho, and he has continued to fly. Another player who could consider himself both important and improved under his former boss, 26-year-old Jesse Lingard, has nevertheless risen to another level, while also rediscovering his goalscoring touch.

With all this in mind, it is something of a surprise that we haven’t seen anything of Greenwood yet.

The teenager has been tearing teams apart in the club’s youth ranks, scoring almost at will across the UEFA Youth League, Premier League 2, Under-18 Premier League and FA Youth Cup this season.

The 17-year-old has plundered a devastating 22 goals in 23 appearances in 2018/19 and has long been mentioned as the next darling who could break through into the senior Red Devils’ set-up.

Those murmurs only grew louder following the shock sacking of Mourinho just before Christmas and interim appointment of Solskjaer.

United were stagnating under the prehistoric Mourinho, desperately in need of a refresh, a reprogramming.

It seemed the perfect time to integrate Greenwood – ironically an unused substitute in the final Champions League group stage game, a 2-1 loss in Valencia, five days before Mourinho was sacked – into the fold.

He had just made the perfect statement – scoring a hat-trick in a thrilling 4-3 victory over Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup on December 17, the day before Mourinho’s departure. As one man was about to make his exit, it seemed another would make his entrance.

OK, so it’s a youth team competition, but let’s give his Chelsea feat some context. Greenwood had hardly made waves, barely a ripple, you may think. But when you consider the Blues are five-time reigning champions and hadn’t tasted defeat in the competition since 2013, it’s more like a tsunami.

It was no fluke either. Greenwood’s goals are rarely tap-ins. He is predominantly left-footed but is equally as devastating on his right. A midfielder in his youth, the Bradford-born talent has progressed further up the field the further his embryonic career has progressed.

Greenwood could get the call if Lingard and Martial are long-term injury doubts.

Solskjaer revealed Greenwood could have made his senior bow with Lingard and Martial out for several weeks.

As a 16-year-old he netted 17 goals from 17 starts for the club last season and finished top scorer in the Under-18 Premier League North, during a campaign that saw United crowned champions.

The glimpses given paint a promising picture of a player who could turn out to be a devastating finisher.

Once he gets his eye in, he is often prolific. Of his 22 strikes, 16 have come in bunches. He has rifled in two hat-tricks – including that memorable treble to knock holders Chelsea out of the cup – while bagging a brace in five other games.

And yet, he has only featured in a senior United matchday squad once – making the bench in that 2-1 loss in Valenica.

With a testing schedule approaching, it appeared Greenwood’s luck was finally in as Solskjaer confirmed on Friday, ahead of United’s trip to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday, that Lingard and Martial faced a few weeks on the sidelines.

However, in a cruel twist of fate, the interim boss also announced he had been robbed of his potential wildcard, with the teenager sidelined for a fortnight with an undisclosed injury himself.

So, it appears that coveted senior call-up must wait a while longer. After Chelsea, it’s a mouthwatering Premier League clash at Old Trafford with title chasing rivals Liverpool on February 24, before the return leg in Paris.

Solskjaer, the hero of the Camp Nou in 1999, will try to orchestrate yet another Champions League miracle at the Parc des Princes.

As logical as it appeared he would have given Greenwood his debut in the early days of his reign, it seems equally illogical the manager would have blooded the budding young forward in the coming crucial stretch of clashes.

But it could make complete sense, assuming he’s back fit soon. The extent of injuries to Lingard and Martial – who were both withdrawn at the break in Tuesday’s home defeat – will be of concern to the manager.

Greenwood was called up to the senior squad by Jose Mourinho in December but he is yet to make his first-team bow.

Greenwood was called up to the senior squad by Jose Mourinho in December but he is yet to make his first-team bow.

Replacing two players quick of foot and mind (Lingard and Martial) with the static Juan Mata and woefully short of form and unconfident Alexis Sanchez clearly backfired.

Whatever happens in the repeat of last season’s FA Cup final on Monday or in the second leg against PSG, there remain plenty of big games ahead for United. And plenty of opportunities for Greenwood to grab as Solskjaer looks to juggle the freshness of his squad while trying to steer United to a top-four Premier League finish – a double header with Arsenal and Manchester City looms in mid-March.

Solskjaer has been able to achieve something each of his three predecessors had struggled with – quickly identifying his favoured starting XI.

The first-choice front four of Rashford, Martial, Lingard and Pogba are intrinsic to the new-look United. In the arduous run approaching, Solskjaer faces a precarious predicament. Unlike in his early reign, he really needs to win.

Ordinarily, he’d look to the likes of senior, experienced pros such as Sanchez, Mata and Romelu Lukaku to provide the spark – and with Lingard, Martial and Greenwood out for the immediate future, he will have to try and coax the best out of this trio.

But having finally unlocked the pace, panache and explosiveness that United’s attack has long promised to provide, he has proved his Portuguese predecessor foolish and confirmed what United fans and critics knew all along – that fluid, free-flowing football is always the way United should play.

He may well have to bide his time a little bit longer, as he is stuck in neutral for now. But once he is ready to go again, Greenwood should belatedly get the green light, and his United career can finally get going.

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