Key Stats – Games 30 / Goals 9 / Assists 1
“Ole’s at the wheel. Tell me how, how does it feel?” Answer: I still don’t know. I just want to talk about and swoon over Mason Greenwood.
23rd September 2019. The epoch-making stage of Old Trafford is set on a warm, end of summer night. As the teams enter the pitch, the camera pans a team sprinkled with young talent (and Phil Jones). It pauses on one. The youngest. A 17 year-old striker with a reputation that already permeates fans, coaches, players and camera operator’s thoughts. The only thing standing between Mason Greenwood and living up to his hype: The famous yellow and… teal? Aqua? Hue-ish blue?… of Astana FC.
The game is dull. Really dull. One of those performances where United fans start googling to see if Pochettino has been spotted in Manchester baggage claim. But on the seventy second minute, the teenager receives the ball on his left. Fearlessly sizes up the defender. You can almost hear him challenge the opponent with a “Wanna dance?” He fakes the shot with his favoured left, cuts onto his favoured right and finishes with assassin-like accuracy.
A watch of MUTV’s highlight package is proof of three things. 1) Biased commentary is the pits. 2) This game was dire. Between Greenwood’s first left-footed cannon that is just wide of the far post and his goal, fifty seven unnoteworthy minutes pass by. 3) Mason Greenwood was, is and will be special for a very long time.
In the much brighter Bruno-era, Greenwood has become well-known for the shifting between the equally devastating traction engines at the end of his legs. It already feels like whenever he receives the ball on the edge of the opponents area, he is going to easily create the space he needs to release the Kraken. Cries of “Don’t let him turn!” from goalkeepers old enough to be his dad are futile as are they when the teenage bully leaves them helpless and victimised after another howling beast screams past them.
The Holy Trinity
Although they have just begun life as a trio, I wanted to look at the numbers of United’s new frontline and see how they compared with each other.
What stands out is how low Greenwood’s shots per game numbers are. Greenwood is playing a tactical game of chess with a sledgehammer in his pocket. Whilst his ball retention and pass accuracy support this positively and suggest he is carefully considered in picking his moments, surely upping this number has to be high on his and Solskjaer’s agenda to improve upon.
What’s more exciting for United fans is how they work together. Rashford and Martial are seamless in their fluidity on the left and this is clearly United’s ‘Dangerzone’. What’s been notable since Project Restart is how often Greenwood has also swapped sides/overlapped/exploited central gaps. I can’t help but imagine a psychiatrist’s office full of defenders: “So, I’ve dealt with Rashford’s skill and pace, then Martial’s dancing feet. Suddenly, this teenage prick is running at me doing all these stepovers ‘n’ that. Then, he shoots and I can’t even fucking see it! It’s not fair and I’m not playing anymore”.
Follow the Yellow (Blue and Green) Brick Road
Naturally, when a hugely exciting young player comes through, there are temptations and clamour to find an accurate or ludicrous comparison. I don’t believe this is to pigeonhole players, but rather fans trying to forecast a career trajectory by looking at a previous case. Allow me to be Morpheous and offer you a red or blue pill.
“He was physical perfection, and he seemed like a mythical figure. I love [Lionel] Messi, I played many times with Cristiano [Ronaldo] and I adore him, Neymar is outstanding, Ronaldinho was exceptional – but if you put all of them together, you might get what Ronaldo was that season.” Quinton Fortune about Ronaldo in 1996-7.
Stay with me here, there is a world where Greenwood maximises his potential and becomes similar to the greatest number nine of all time. He has the physical gifts, the venomous shot, the calm head bearing down on goal, the dribbling ability, the intelligent movement. R9 was everything you wanted from a striker and Greenwood possesses that same promise. Already, you expect him to score every game. At PSV and Barcelona, Ronaldo pretty much did. Why not dare to dream of the best case scenario?
‘He Looks Like A Footballer‘
For all his inability to talk sense whilst commentating, Owen was prolific. Whilst breaking through as a teenager at Liverpool in particular, he was one of the most exciting and impressive talents to ever do it in the Premier League.
When you look at these figures it is scary to imagine what Greenwood will manage in a full season as a regular starter. In fact, comparing the goal involvements per minute numbers is already ridiculous.
Of course, Mason Greenwood isn’t Owen. Nor is he Ronaldo. But, he is a phenom and the kind of talent that doesn’t come along too often. I, for one, will be sitting back and enjoying the ride. Long may it last.