There was one particular Manchester United goal at Aston Villa last season that left all fortunate to be in attendance in these crazy times rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
When Mason Greenwood pulled back his right foot, you fancied him to put United 2-0 up, given what we had already seen from this fledgling talent.
But the rocket Greenwood set in motion almost pierced a hole in the netting, crossing the goal-line before Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina had even got into position, nevermind made a futile attempt at a save.
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It defied logic, and physics. How can you hit a ball that hard, with seemingly such little back lift? The goal took Greenwood to within one of George Best, Wayne Rooney and Brian Kidd’s record for the most goals by a teenager in a single season for United – a record he surpassed in the following weeks. The sky was not near enough of a limit for Greenwood at this point.
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Fans getting carried away that they had the first teenage superstar since David Beckham and his classmates on their hands have been brought back down to earth this campaign, however, as Greenwood’s goals have dried up.
But there has not been any panic in the United ranks, or even a suggestion that Greenwood isn’t destined for anything other than the top of his profession.
The 19-year-old put pen to paper on a new four-year deal this week, reward for a real upturn in performance in the last month, even if the goals still have not flowed. Now begins United’s biggest challenge – where best to fit the Bradford boy wonder in?
“He can play right centre forward, as a No 10 and then at a stretch on the left side,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said ahead of United’s Europa League last-32 first leg against Real Sociedad. “We just have to give him time to find his final position.
"He is a forward who moves really well along the line. At his age and where he is in his development physically sometimes you don’t want to be in the middle with the big brutal centre backs next to you.
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I think we have found he can play in various roles, but in the next year or two, we will have to find out whether he will be a No 9, a forward drifting inside, or as a shadow striker.
Similar to Rooney, Greenwood is so talented that he can fulfil a number of roles in the team, hence the difficulty Solskjaer has trying to define his starlet’s best position. What Solskjaer now must do, and seems set to given his long-term outlook – a trait that has curried favour with the club and is perhaps why they have been so patient with the Norwegian as United have laboured at times – is let Greenwood find his way, himself.
All his youth coaches say the same thing – that Greenwood didn’t actually need much coaching. He was born with a powerful shot very few in world football can replicate, balance and skill you won’t find in any manual and an eye for a pass or run that seems to come annoyingly naturally to one so young.
The Europa League represents a perfect stage to experiment a little with Greenwood, away from these brutish Premier League centre-backs, in a central striker role.
With Edinson Cavani missing out on the trip to Turin - the venue for the first-leg clash due to Covid-19 travel restrictions - due to an injury, Anthony Martial continuing to frustrate and Marcus Rashford clearly much more of a potent weapon out wide than through the middle, Greenwood should at least be given the opportunity to play in central strike position he broke continually broke goalscoring records in during his rise through United’s academy.
Every game, every experience, can help Greenwood learn. And that is all he needs: time, patience and games. His boundless talent will do the rest.
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