Man United mishandled an academy departure in Paul Pogba eight years ago but there can be no complaints this time amid Mason Greenwood’s brilliance.
“He heard a voice,” Verbal Kint explains in The Usual Suspects. “Sometimes, that’s all you need.” Against Bournemouth, Bruno Fernandes heard a voice, uttered at a deferential volume, and that was all he needed.
It is a pity Aaron Ramsdale changed the trajectory of Mason Greenwood’s shot, for the moment the ball trickled into his path there was only one place it was going. Greenwood’s first against Bournemouth had an inevitability about it akin to Robin van Persie at the start of his Manchester United career – specifically his first at Southampton; a touch to control and a second to shoot. The ball ricocheted off Kelvin Davies’s knee but there was only one place it was going.
Any United striker of eminence is assigned a comparison and Greenwood’s measured finishing has been reminiscent of his manager. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s two Premier League goals against Liverpool were canny side-footers through the legs of an opponent and the majority of Greenwood’s 15 this season have been finessed finishes.
The parallels with Van Persie and Solskjaer are credible and Greenwood, 18, does not have the hallmarks of a prodigy in the midst of a prolonged purple patch. Anyone who saw him at academy level would have seen this coming; Greenwood plundered 34 goals in 34 games for the Under-18s and five in five in the Uefa Youth League.
Greenwood started with Angel Gomes in four of those European ties and, bar a smattering of cult followers online, United supporters are not mourning Gomes amid Greenwood’s goals. Felicitously for Solskjaer, just as one much-hyped academy graduate drove out of Carrington for the last time another was on the plane to Brighton, where he cemented his first-team status.
There were tell-tale signs back Gomes’s mind was elsewhere in Linz, where he was the only travelling squad member clad in a Paul Smith suit for the warm-up. On the stadium running track, Gomes was affable when he should have been affronted, shooting the breeze with some of the United staff members as if he was on work experience when two teenagers – Greenwood and Brandon Williams – were involved.
Greenwood played with an affront. He had not lined up in any of the games Odion Ighalo had and only emerged in added time in Linz. He scored. Now, when Ighalo is starting it is because Greenwood is resting. Continue reading