Opinion: Kobbie's England call-up is a proud Academy moment

Tuesday 19 March 2024 18:30

Days after a dominant midfield display on the biggest stage, a thrilling Manchester United v Liverpool fixture, Kobbie Mainoo has received his first call-up to the England senior squad. It's a moment to cherish for the club's 246th Academy graduate, his family and the staff who have helped him towards this landmark achievement.

The Stockport-born midfielder has been at United since he was nine and his recent development into a first-team mainstay has been wonderful to watch.

The maturity and focus that team-mates and coaches attribute to Mainoo have been clear since his first interview back in 2022, when, aged 16, he was a key part of the FA Youth Cup-winning team.

Kobbie lifting the FA Youth Cup at Old Trafford in May 2022.

As a first-year scholar — unlike Alejandro Garnacho, for example — Kobbie did fewer interviews than some of his team-mates, to ease him into the experience.

Interviews at that age serve a dual purpose: they allow fans an insight into the next generation of talents at United while acting as training for those players. It’s a chance to mess up, do some retakes if needed, and receive some feedback on what is a skill that generally has to be taught: learning to be an interviewee.

Some players are naturals in front of a microphone, but not many. Others are very nervous and that can manifest itself in shyness or a lot of messing about. Kobbie was neither a complete natural nor was he messing about. He was calm, stumbled over a couple of words but impressively described the excitement that follows the initial nerves of a first Old Trafford appearance.

In another interview many months later, in November 2022, just as he was on the cusp of the first team, he had become a model to his team-mates. He had a natural air of humble confidence.

More recently, I spoke to Kobbie as he headed back over to the Academy building for to join in an Under-8s training session.

It was his first major interview and those same characteristics came across. He spoke well and relaxed as our conversation progressed.

Similar to his first-team performances, you get the sense more will come as he adjusts. His debut against Charlton Athletic, in January 2023, was solid, but a little timid, relative to his quality. He kept things simple and tidy. Indeed, Erik ten Hag said he had demanded more and I asked Kobbie what that meant.
Kobbie Mainoo | Playing With Freedom Video

Kobbie Mainoo | Playing With Freedom

PLAYING WITH FREEDOM | In Kobbie's first major interview, we take a trip down memory lane with a team of awestruck U8s…

“He just wanted me to be more dominant and just demand the ball all the time,” he replied.

“And when I first came up with the first team, he told me he was going to push me and he did.

“He just always demanded more from me and just being involved in every play and just always getting on the ball.”

Kobbie is grateful to Erik ten Hag for pushing him every day.
It felt like those first few appearances he was holding something back, something that has since been released: quick feet, effortless control, veteran-like composure and the propensity for an off-your-seat moment.

In conversation, I expect his true, vibrant character to come out more clearly with each interview. He was great around the kids and engaging to listen to.

If he continues to make his mark on the first team, he’ll no doubt grow into a natural leader on and off the pitch.
'This typifies what we're all about' Video

'This typifies what we're all about'

Director of Academy Nick Cox explains the significance of Kobbie Mainoo's recent session with our Under-8s players...

As a United fan, watching his development so far has been a joy. More than that, though, getting to see the reactions of those who have helped Kobbie to get to this stage has been heart-warming.

The staff at the Academy go extra mile and extra mile to make the boys who commit their time to the club feel at home. From drivers, canteen staff and matchday stewards to the medical team and coaches, there’s such a clear family-like feel to the place. The care that they put in every day to help a talented young man like Kobbie thrive is exactly what you hope for from this club.

The pride on their faces and in their words as he makes the very most of every opportunity is palpable. Now Kobbie has been given the latest in a long line of opportunities and another landmark moment in his career, one that the Academy staff who have helped him along the way can take great pride in.

Good luck, Kobbie!

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.