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Shock takes many forms. Like, for instance, last month’s visit to Molineux. In the immediate aftermath of KobbiMainoo’s 

the 97th minute became a showcase of reactions which conflicted and contradicted, yet fundamentally mirrored.

On and off the pitch, United eyes bulged and arms flailed, Wolves knees buckled and faces hid. Throughout the stadium and across the watching world,

surprise was writ large, everywhere and in every form, except on one person: the goalscorer.

Having carefully and considerately picked his way through a melee of bodies outside the hosts’ area, Mainoo methodically made his way to goal,


steered in an unstoppable far-corner finish and, without a shred of outward emotion, continued at the same pace towards the bouncing away support, nodding assuredly as he went,

raising a hand to impart general calm before a gentle, no-look high-five with Scott McTominay and a knee slide which started and ended in-stride;


a celebration as smooth and effortless as the match-winning brilliance which had prompted it.

The youngest head on the field also happened to be the coolest, which, to those who know the Stockport-born 18-year-old,

is just how he’s been since he first came to United’s attention two-thirds of his life ago.

“As a young boy, Kobbie was very much as he is today,” says head of Academy, Nick Cox. “He was, and is,


quite unassuming, fun-loving, joking, always with a big smile but never the centre of attention. All his team-mates love him. He’s very laid back,

humble, respectful, but with this steely focus and determination. He’s always had a lovely blend to his character: self-assurance on the pitch but real humility off it.

I’d love to say we taught him to be that way. We didn’t. That is his upbringing, his formative years with his family, and we’ve just given him lots of opportunities to show those qualities on a regular basis. He hasn’t changed.”

By the time Cox arrived at United in 2016, Mainoo was already five years into his association with the Reds.


Scouted at the age of six by Dermot Clarke while playing grassroots football for Cheadle & Gatley Juniors, Kobbie was invited along to the Moss Side arm of United’s

fleet of north-west development centres – the brainchild of former Academy mainstay Mike Glennie. Within a month of working with coaches Dave Horrocks and Charlie Henry,

Mainoo was moved to United’s main centre at The Cliff to work under the care of Eddie Leach, a key influence in the development of many who went on to have professional careers.

“Six is really young,” admits Cox. “But everyone’s journey is different.


Kobbie is an example of a player who has been with us since the beginning of the programme, who has debuted in the first team really young and maximised

all of the offerings that he’s had along the way.

My first sustained spell with him came in 2018, when we took a youth team out to Boston for a tournament.

“Those trips are about football, but also ensuring the players have lots of amazing experiences, so we went
to Harvard University, Fenway Park; we saw the New England Patriots and ran around on the pitch where Tom Brady
and his Super Bowl-winning team played; we took them to the cinema, had snowball fights, ate chocolate and generally

did stuff that kids should be doing. So, they had an amazing time, but we also won the tournament and it presented
Kobbie with the opportunity to show he was the best player at the tournament. Our programme is about giving players

as many opportunities as we can. He’s just taken each one that has come his way, including educationally.

“Ashton-on-Mersey School has played a huge part for him. We have a very close relationship with the school and run the Manchester


United Schoolboy Scholarship – or MANUSS – scheme devised by Dave Bushell and Tony Whelan, which gives us great flexibility over education and football,

so that our players achieve in both.


We tweak the programme to give each individual extra exposure to football experiences but also ensure they get good grades, which Kobbie did.

“Normally, we don’t put players into that programme until we’re confident they’re definitely


going to be a scholar with us because we don’t want to take them away from their communities and their mates for no reason. Kobbie came in at Year 7,

aged 11, so he was one of the youngest to come

into that programme. Marcus Rashford did the same, but he and Kobbie are the exceptions to the rule. Around that age, we had a hunch,

to the best of our ability, that he was definitely going to go on to be a youth-team player and a young pro.”

By the time Mainoo became a first-year scholar in July 2021, he had already spent swathes of his time learning his trade in a variety of positions,

primarily as a centre-forward, under coaches Eamon Mulvey and Travis Binnion. It was under the latter that he made
the move into central midfield for the Reds’ FA Youth Cup-winning campaign of 2021/22.



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