Opinion: Mason has momentum for Euros
Manchester United fans sing ‘Mason Greenwood’s dynamite’ and there’s every chance the 19-year-old could explode at the European Championships this summer.
The forward ended the 2020/21 season in great form for the Reds, scoring seven goals across April and May to earn consecutive Player of the Month nominations.
He narrowly lost out last month to the equally-as-hot Edinson Cavani, but after clinical strikes against Aston Villa and Leicester City, and an eye-catching display in the first 90 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, there’s every chance Mason can conclude the campaign on a real high by claiming May’s prize.
There’s also the small matter of a first senior international tournament on the horizon – if Greenwood can make Gareth Southgate’s final cut on Tuesday, ahead of the Group D opener against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday week.
That fixture evokes memories of another precocious Three Lions talent, as Wayne Rooney – then of Everton, but soon to make his first step on the path to becoming United’s record goalscorer – put the same side to the sword at Euro 2004 before going on to make it into the team of the tournament.
Replicating Rooney’s swashbuckling, age-defying performances from Portugal is not what is expected at all of a player who has just 12 minutes of international football under his belt.
Yet, Greenwood’s inclusion in the preliminary 33-man squad is still a real achievement, considering some of the criticism he received earlier this season.
In music, they always speak of the difficult sophomore album and, although Mason made a handful of appearances at the back-end of the previous campaign, 2019/20 was when he really broke through and became a household name.
Following up on 17 goals and three assists in 26 starts this time around was always going to be a difficult ask, and Mason did struggle to find the net prior to the turn of the year.
However, some of the things written about a 19-year-old still learning his craft in a maturing side did feel harsh and, in a campaign where momentum seemed more important than ever, a tad premature.
As we closed in on the March international break – with Mason initially selected for the England Under-21s (he would later withdraw), rather than the senior side – he’d scored just four times, including a run of one goal in 26 games.
The spark was there in positive displays against West Ham and AC Milan, but the end product wasn’t and the media had started to take notice.
“He’s really matured and his performances are top class,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer responded in March, when asked about his young forward after the victory over AC Milan. “Definitely. His hold-up play, his link-up play has improved so much. His physical strength has improved so much.
“His awareness has always been there but he’s getting the confidence. You know, this season has been a big step forward for him.
“The next step for him is to stop thinking about finishing because he doesn’t have to think about it. It’s just instinct, just do it.
“Just trust yourself, all the other bits are there. And that’s what I tell him. He’ll be fine, he’ll really kick on soon.”
Well, it turns out Ole was right.
Mason came out of the international break refreshed and those goals flowed.
There was the header against Brighton – a first goal of that nature since his youth team days. The late clincher at Tottenham. A matchwinning double to see off a stubborn Burnley.
Roma, Villa and Leicester all got to see what an unerring finisher Greenwood could be, as he made himself virtually undroppable. United played 13 games in April and May. Mason started 10.
The end-of-term totals may suggest regression when compared to the previous campaign: 36 starts, 12 goals, five assists. But ask the man himself, and he feels differently.
“I think I've done better than last season,” Greenwood told the Press Association’s Simon Peach recently. “The performances when I wasn't scoring, I still think I was playing well. I don't think I was playing poorly.
“The final end product might not have been there and obviously towards the end of the season it's kicked in, but I still feel like I've done a lot better than I did last year.
“My goals and assists might not seem like it but in my opinion, and maybe the players around me, I feel like I'm more of a player for the team now as well.”
Greenwood recently overtook Rooney as United’s record Premier League goalscoring teenager.
The latter’s four European Championship goals before reaching 20 years old pose an altogether more difficult target and one that could yet be taken away as Southgate faces the task of culling seven quality players from a talented list.
Reds supporters will hope their man will be given the opportunity to ride the crest of the wave all the way into an international tournament his side are seen as real challengers for.
But, if not, the signs for 2021/22 are bright. Very bright. After all, Mason Greenwood’s dynamite, and that fuse has been lit once again.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.