‘A dream come true’ – the making of Man Utd match-winner Kobbie Mainoo
Kobbie Mainoo has now scored in back to back games having netted for Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round
His first Premier League goal was a 97th-minute winner for his childhood club to seal a 4-3 victory. No wonder Kobbie Mainoo was grinning ear to ear.
“It is a dream come true,” the 18-year-old Manchester United midfielder told TNT Sports, following his winner in a Premier League classic against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux.
“I have still not come down from it. I still feel like I am dreaming to be honest.
“To start playing in the Premier League for my boyhood club has been amazing. Now it’s about trying to win more games.”
This was Mainoo’s 11th senior appearance for United, with his previous games seeing him being quietly impressive in central midfield.
But this was something else entirely. This was a young man dragging his stricken comrades from the floor with a spark of individual brilliance to grab a win which United seemed to have thrown away.
Seconds after Pedro Neto had equalised for the hosts, Mainoo picked the ball up 35 yards from goal. He beat one defender, nutmegged Wolves captain Max Kilman, cut on to his right foot and curled a beautiful low finish past Jose Sa.
Mainoo is the latest teenage star to come through the United ranks and burst on to the Premier League stage.
Four of the last five 90th-minute winning goals in the Premier League by players aged 18 or younger have been for United: Federico Macheda in 2009, Marcus Rashford in 2016, Alejandro Garnacho in 2022 and now Mainoo.
‘He would walk through teams’
His fleet feet might have come as a surprise to United fans who have only seen him as a deep-lying central midfielder, but not those who have followed his career from a young age.
Mainoo started his football career with local side Cheadle and Gatley JFC in Greater Manchester, at just five years old.
Steve Vare coached him when Mainoo was six – and knew even then he had someone special on his hands.
“I have had other kids who were exceptional at that age that have not gone on to the levels he has,” Vare told BBC Sport. “You think he is a good player. You try and test and challenge him, even at that young age.
Kobbie Mainoo celebrated in front of the away fans at Molineux after snatching three points for the visitors
“It was quite obvious when Kobbie came down that he was strong, quick, good with the ball at his feet. I had to try and challenge him by loading the teams up so all the better kids were on the other team to make it a challenge for him. I then started to play him against the older boys, to challenge him.
“At that age, he was already very quick. He used to accelerate really quickly with the ball and go past players. He was strong. He was wiry. He was hard to knock off the ball. At that age, it is kick-and-run football but he used to keep it very close to his feet. He used to weave in and out of cones and challenges where the ball is stuck to his feet.
“You would have kids where they would just boot the ball or weren’t that interested in the coaching element, just playing matches. Kobbie was always keen to listen and learn.
“You just knew you had to put the better players on the opposing team to try and challenge him. He would walk through teams, scoring six or seven goals.
“We used to give a man-of-the-match award at the end of every session. You could have given it to him every week. You had to give it to the most improved player rather than him dominating all the time.”
‘He gives me Seedorf vibes’
Vare spoke to Mainoo’s father Felix and told him to get his son into a professional academy. The youngster joined Manchester United and the rest is history.
Of the youngsters currently playing for Cheadle and Gatley, where Vare is now a committee member, he said: “It gives everyone a boost that they could be the next Kobbie Mainoo.”
Mainoo’s status already at United is the academy lad come good. It is a mantle he has inherited from Rashford, who looked like being the main event after scoring five minutes into his return from misadventures in Belfast, only for the number 37 to steal the headlines.
It is perhaps damning that United were reliant on a teenager to dig them out of trouble in a game they were leading 2-0 at half-time and 3-1 in the 85th minute, and should have won comfortably.
But in Mainoo, they seem to have a midfield talent who is here to stay.
“One minute I’m on the floor and then Kobbie Mainoo produces a moment that we have seen in the academy before,” former United defender Rio Ferdinand said on TNT Sports. “He has translated that into senior football and he deserves his flowers.
“The composure that this kid shows at this level stands out immensely in his game. In the youth team he has always looked like a class player, and to translate that into the first team without an issue is the sign of someone who has a bright future. He understands the standards that are set here and the history and everything.
“I’m not saying he is the same player or of the same ability but he gives me vibes of Clarence Seedorf. The way he can manoeuvre in tight situations and the way he manipulates the ball and uses his body at times. Elusive as well. Some people see the headlines and he just caresses it.”
A dream come true, and perhaps for Mainoo, the dream has just begun.