Greenwood's rise to the Kopa Trophy shortlist

Thursday 14 October 2021 07:00

The decision of when to promote a young player into the first team is difficult, but, in the case of Mason Greenwood, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his coaches have done it masterfully.

The Academy is a conveyor belt of talent and there are always young players who are knocking on the door of the senior squad, hoping to join those who have graduated before them. Famously, a homegrown player has featured in every matchday squad for 4,107 matches in a record that dates all the way back to October 1937, proudly highlighting our commitment to homegrown talent.

Greenwood was making waves in the youth system and had trained with the first team when Solskjaer returned to United as caretaker manager in December 2018. With a natural eye for goalscorers, the Norwegian was immediately impressed by Mason’s talent and that led to his first-team debut: as a substitute in the dramatic win over Paris Saint-Germain that March. 

With Ole as a mentor and supportive coaches in Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick and former youth-team boss Kieran McKenna, Greenwood flourished and scored 17 goals in his first full season. His success brought added expectation and pressure, yet Mason’s emergence was handled meticulously and player care has always been at the centre of his ascent. This is the United way. 
When the Bradford-born talent experienced a challenging start to the 2020/21 season, the mood at Carrington was calm: young players experience ups and downs by their nature, and this prodigiously gifted starlet had a manager who remained 100 per cent behind his player. The result? Our no.11 scored eight of his 12 goals in the second half of the campaign, with added wisdom in the bank.

Greenwood began the current term with a bang by scoring in our first three matches and, as a result, winning the club’s fan-voted Player of the Month award. A year of working with Edinson Cavani has clearly had a positive impact on his all-round play and, furthermore, the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo has provided another world-class role model to learn from. This is what the club always strives to achieve, of course: mixing homegrown heroes with world-class talent. 
“It’s great timing for Mason that he’s able to work under such a great striker in Ole,” said McKenna in his UTD Unscripted. “There aren’t many better than Ole in the history of the football club for goals in the penalty area, different types of finishes from inside the penalty area, anticipatory movements in the box. Ole was really strong and passionate about that and it’s something for Mason to work on. 

“As finishers, in terms of left foot and right foot, Ole sees similarities between him and Mason and that probably helped with their bond and his willingness to push Mason and give him the opportunity. Likewise, for Mason to know when he’s getting advice off the manager it’s from someone who has been in the penalty box and done it. It’s a really beneficial relationship for him. Mason’s lucky with the manager that he’s come under, not just in terms of the goalscoring but how he handles him as a person as well. He’s been fortunate that he broke into the first team under Ole.”

Greenwood’s relationship with Solskjaer has undoubtedly helped him to become one of football’s most accomplished young players and, last Friday, he was named on a 10-man shortlist for the Kopa Trophy. Organised by France Football, it is presented to the world's best performing player under the age of 21 and the winner is selected by a panel of former Ballon d'Or recipients, with winners so far including Kylian Mbappe and Matthijs De Ligt. The victor will be named on 29 November. 

Whether Mason wins or not, his nomination is a fantastic achievement and one that highlights the incredible progress that he has made while working under Solskjaer and his staff at Carrington.

Whatever the future holds for Greenwood remains to be seen, and there is plenty of hard work to come, but with Solskjaer as his mentor it appears anything is possible.



Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund)
Jérémy Doku (Rennes)
Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax Amsterdam)
Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
Nuno Mendes (PSG)
Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)
Pedri (Barcelona)
Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)

Find out who wins on 29 November at the Ballon d'Or awards, when Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are also nominated for the top prize.

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