Alejandro Garnacho: From quarantine to the cup final

Thursday 13 June 2024 09:37

To an outsider, Alejandro Garnacho’s career must look so neat. So straightforward.

Signed by Manchester United at 16, he wins the FA Youth Cup and makes his first-team debut at 17, scores his maiden Premier League goal at 18, and then nets in a victorious FA Cup final – against Manchester City, no less – at 19.
Simple, right? A superstar in the making, destined for the top since he first graced the local parque in Madrid as a toddler. When dribbling had two meanings.
But listen to the boy speak about his amazing journey thus far, and that sense of simplicity evaporates pretty quickly. Because the beginning of Garnacho’s United story is not about perfect football wizardry and inevitable on-field glory. 
No, it’s a tale of isolation, linguistic confusion and rough edges – and even rougher Wi-Fi connections.
Lifeblood Short: Garnacho's story Video

Lifeblood Short: Garnacho's story

Watch Garna's extended interview from 'Lifeblood: History', where he talks about his amazing United journey...

Garnacho joined United in the autumn of 2020 – a year that Brits remember for the chaos imparted on the country by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was hard enough for those of us who were born and raised here, but a 16-year-old moving from Madrid trying to find his way as a professional footballer?
Hear Garnacho speak about those experiences in the new short film from our ‘Lifeblood’ series – which focuses on all-things Academy – and you can see the loneliness and anxiety of those early days etched upon the youngster’s face.
The nervousness of leaving family and friends behind. Being forced to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival from Spain. The strangeness of encountering a new country, a new club, new team-mates, a new language. Not to mention the lockdowns.
Just weeks after Garnacho’s signing was officially confirmed by the club, Greater Manchester was placed under ‘tier-three’ restrictions – the most severe that could be imposed by the government at the time. A few weeks later, a second national lockdown began. These were awkward, straitjacketed times, characterised by volcanic levels of frustration.
There were endless meetings and language classes on Zoom (and that intermittent Wi-Fi) for Garnacho, but ‘normal’ life was on hold. If not for the support of his parents and brother – something which Alejandro cites several times during the video – this was surely a career that could have withered and died.
But, instead, the player knuckled down and found a method for battling through the surreal circumstances. Despite his outstanding talent, there was plenty to sort out on the field, too, as coach Travis Binnion explains in the film.
Garnacho: Every goal so far Video

Garnacho: Every goal so far

Enjoy all 15 strikes from Alejandro Garnacho’s senior United career to date…

“[He was a] talented boy, with very good ability with the ball at feet,” Binnion remembers. “Exciting, positive, but [with] just a lot of things he needed to work at, whether it was his strengths, in terms of his end product or becoming an even better dribbler, or that degree of unpredictability about what he was going to do. And obviously the off-the-ball stuff, the reliability in build-up – those two things I've seen huge strides in.
“He loved football, worked hard. We had to guide him, in some areas, on what he had to work hard at, but that's our job. Maybe he didn't see all the rewards in doing that at that time. But he was 17 years old. But we can certainly see now, with the help of the first-team staff and some of the things we certainly started in the Academy, that's he's becoming a much more rounded player.”
In June 2024, that goes without saying. Garnacho, like his Academy classmate, Kobbie Mainoo, is a burgeoning United hero. Together, they are the teenagers that won the FA Cup for United, silencing neighbours City with their confidence, their skill, their youthful insouciance.
That day at Wembley was a breathtaking one for all Reds, and two teenagers shining on such a grand stage fit seamlessly into the club’s history, full of Busby Babes and Fergie Fledglings, not to mention a long tradition of proud defiance.
But Garnacho’s story – and the entire ‘Lifeblood’ series – is a reminder that iconic United moments don’t grow on trees in Gorse Hill. Players have to be found, cultivated, encouraged, inspired, emboldened. Maybe, just maybe, some of them will one day go on to produce what those two lads did at Wembley in 2024. What Charlton, Best and Kidd did in ’68. What Whiteside did in ’85. On and on and on.
Player highlights: Garnacho’s Youth Cup final Video

Player highlights: Garnacho’s Youth Cup final

Player Cam | Alejandro Garnacho stepped up in the 2022 FA Youth Cup final, scoring twice in a talismanic display…

A few weeks ago, I met with one of the lads that works in the United Foundation, looking after the mascots who walk out with the players on each matchday at Old Trafford.
He told me that almost all of the young fans are obsessed with Garnacho; that they all want to be the kid who walks out with Alejandro. “The poor lad only has two hands!” he laughed.
But, remember, when Alejandro Garnacho arrived in Manchester in October 2020, less than four years ago, he didn’t have a solitary friend in this city, beyond his own family members.
Thanks to the recruitment experts who brought him here, the coaches that worked with him, the team-mates and managers who also helped to sculpt his development – and the player himself, of course – that has all now changed.
This is now a boy that inspires others, as Head of Academy Nick Cox says.
Alejandro scores a goal during his early weeks at the Academy in 2020.
“It's really powerful, when you see someone like you, achieving great things,” suggests Nick. “It makes it realistic and normal. That week after the bicycle kick at Everton, everyone [at the Academy] was trying it – goalkeepers, nine-year-olds, 21-year-olds! Everyone was trying to recreate it, and it was nice to see… [It was] a reminder of the power that our young players can have once they break into the team, the inspiration that they provide for everyone else.”
Garnacho turns 20 next month, and hopefully his story at United has many months and years to go; many more magical moments like that bicycle kick, and the winner at Wembley, still to come.
But watch him reflect on his early years at the club in this new film, and you’ll get a feeling for just how much work goes into preparing talented young lads for the responsibility of donning arguably the most famous shirt in world football.
What Garnacho does might look like magic on the field, but it derives from the work and ambition of the player and countless others. Day after day after day.