Kobbie Mainoo discusses Spanish lessons and how life has changed after dream debut season

Mainoo’s star has risen over the past year and now he wants to end a remarkable campaign with a Wembley high

Richard Jolly
Senior Football Correspondent
Friday 24 May 2024 15:24 BST
Kobbie Mainoo has burst on to the scene for Man United this season
Kobbie Mainoo has burst on to the scene for Man United this season (Getty Images)

Kobbie Mainoo is learning about the trappings of fame. “When I try to go to the corner shop I get a bit more attention,” said the breakout star of Manchester United’s season. And if there was something wonderfully down-to-earth about the image, there is also the probability that Mainoo may not be spending too much time at the corner shop too often in the future. He is more likely to be seen in the United and England midfields.

For now, anyway, he has not experienced the downsides of his sudden celebrity, even though his native Stockport is Manchester City territory. “Growing up, everyone around me was a City fan, there were only a few of us who had to fight as United fans,” Mainoo recalled.

Maybe an FA Cup final will come down to a clash of Stockport’s finest, Phil Foden against Mainoo. If the United man is outnumbered in his home town, perhaps the friendly reception he gets there is because of the heart-warming nature of his rise, the old-fashioned idea of a likeable local breaking through. “People ask for pictures,” he said. “It’s nice. I mean, I grew up here, so to take pictures, is the least I can do. I remember being a kid and wanting pictures with players when I was younger.”

He wanted selfies with his favourite footballers – the likes of Wayne Rooney, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford – when he was younger. Now he has the opportunity to get them with another Mancunian on a daily basis. “To play with some of these players is crazy,” Mainoo said. At 26, Rashford is scarcely a veteran but it is worth noting that when he debuted for United, Mainoo was only 10.

He is sufficiently young that, when he steps out for United at Wembley on Saturday, he will be aiming to win just their second FA Cup of his lifetime. He remembers 2016, Alan Pardew dancing when Crystal Palace took the lead and another United academy product, Jesse Lingard, scoring an extra-time winner.

But he had never been to Wembley until last season’s Carabao Cup final. Erik ten Hag has not always felt like a prophetic figure in a year that has damaged his reputation and could mean that, like his fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal, he is sacked after an FA Cup final. But when United beat Newcastle at Wembley last season, he went over to a 17-year-old Mainoo and told him he could be part of such scenes the following year.

Man Utd won the Carabao Cup in 2023 but things have dramatically declined since
Man Utd won the Carabao Cup in 2023 but things have dramatically declined since (Getty Images)

“It’s been a season of ups and downs but to end it with another final is still a dream come true as a boyhood fan of the club,” Mainoo reflected. The midfielder’s progress was first delayed, then remarkably rapid. He may have started the campaign in the team but for an ankle injury sustained against Real Madrid in pre-season. If Mainoo has given the impression of being a fast learner, he used his time out to try and educate himself further. “I started Spanish lessons on Zoom just to pass the time a bit,” he said. He speaks “un poco… now it’s into summer I’ll try to pick it up again because I enjoyed it.”

Yet the language Mainoo could require this summer is German, not Spanish. He was named in England’s 33-man training squad for Euro 2024. It seems a safe bet he will make the 26-man cut for the finals. Yet his first start for United did not even come until November. “Back then, I wasn’t even thinking about England,” he said.

Now he is in the England squad, whereas Rashford is not. He has scored an injury-time winner, at Wolves, got a high-class first Old Trafford goal against Liverpool, been compared to the serial Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf.

Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Mainoo are a trio who hold plenty of promise for Man United’s future
Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Mainoo are a trio who hold plenty of promise for Man United’s future (PA Wire)

He has formed part of a trio that offer United hope of a brighter future. Alejandro Garnacho is nine months his senior, Rasmus Hojlund a further 17 months older. Born in 2003, 2004 and 2005, United’s youthful triumvirate are friends, the faces of the next generation. It was highlighted by a celebration: the Argentinian sitting on the advertising hoardings at Old Trafford after scoring against West Ham in February, the Dane and the Englishman joining him.

“I always ask Garna before the game what's the celebration going to be if he scores,” Mainoo said. “And he was like, 'I'm not telling you, I'm not telling you.' So I'm like, 'Okay.' I saw him jump up on the advertising board when he scored and me and Rasmus just jumped up there with him.”

Rather than the photos he dreamed of getting with Rooney and Pogba, he was part of a symbolic picture with two newer United heroes. For the corner-shop kid trying to help United turn the corner, the last six months have changed his life. “It’s happened so quickly,” he said.

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