Now I can imagine you are reading this thinking, what on earth is this article going to be about.
You may think it’s about the potential of a new signing, or an obscure wonderkid from South America.
From this, I can tell you, it’s neither of those things.
There’s only one man who save United £100m, and he’s already at the club, his name’s Kobbie Mainoo.
Football’s financial conundrum
With football becoming an ever-increasing financial superpower, the rise in transfer fees was inevitable, but to the extent that its grown to, no-one could have foreseen.
In 2017, global superstar Neymar’s £200m transfer, forever changed world football as we knew it.
The valuations of players instantly shot up with major signings like Ousmane Dembele costing 150m euros with add-ons, Kylian Mbappe, at just 18-years of age, signing for £166m and Phillipe Coutinho joining Barcelona for 120m euros upfront and an additional 40 million in add-ons.
Subsequently, six years since Neymar’s historic move, football transfers have hit new unfathomable heights.
Although the Brazilian’s record is yet to be broken, the real shift has come from the valuations of lower regarded players.
In 2019, the respected, but not world class centre half Harry Maguire joined United for £80m. Similarly, Wesley Fofana and Nicolas Pepe, both talented, but not majorly proven players, moved for over £70m each.
Now in 2023, such high prices have been epitomised by the signings of Jude Bellingham, Enzo Fernandez, Moises Caicedo and Declan Rice.
If you asked football fans if they were to rank those four midfielders, a large majority would place Bellingham as considerably better than the other three. However, Bellingham joined Real Madrid for £115m, but Fernandez joined Chelsea for £106.8m and Caicedo is also set to move to the west London side for £115m and Rice joined Arsenal for £105m.
Therefore, this is a clear illustration of the chaotic nature of the transfer window.
Of course, contract length and a player’s desire to leave is a major factor, but these fees are a great example of how inflated the prices are of less proven players now.
🚨 Top 🔟 most expensive signings in Premier League history:
1️⃣🇪🇨 Caicedo: £115M
2️⃣🇦🇷 Fernandez: £106.8M
3️⃣🏴 Rice: £105M
4️⃣🏴 Grealish: £100M
5️⃣🇧🇪 Lukaku: £97M [Chelsea]
6️⃣🇫🇷 Pogba: £89M
7️⃣🇺🇦 Mudryk: £89M
8️⃣🇧🇷 Antony: £82M
9️⃣🏴 Maguire: £78M
🔟🇧🇪 Lukaku: £75M [Man Utd] pic.twitter.com/Zy4CfSpLvq
— Football Tweet ⚽ (@Football__Tweet) August 15, 2023
Rice, Caicedo, Fernandez and Bellingham are all quality players, but a distinct level below the likes of Paul Pogba in 2016, who at the time was a world beater and if subject to inflation, joined United for a similar price to these midfielders.
Subsequently, with United still needing more midfielders and prices as exponentially high as they are, focusing on the development and growth of Mainoo could save the club over a hundred million pounds.
But who is Kobbie Mainoo
Mainoo is an 18-year-old midfielder that has progressed through United’s academy, making such an impression and being so highly regarded that he won the Jimmy Murphy young player of the year award in 2023.
Mainoo joined United’s prestigious academy in 2021, starting out in the U18’s, making 11 appearances that season.
In the following 21/22 season, Mainoo began to cement himself as a routine starter in the U18’s. He played 23 times in this age bracket, whilst also appearing four times for the u23’s in Premier League 2 and four times for United’s UEFA U19’s.
Crucially, in 21/22, Mainoo was an integral part of the United side which won the historic FA Youth Cup. In his six appearances in this victory, Mainoo scored against Everton and Reading, whilst assisting once.
Alejandro Garnacho stole the plaudits for his phenomenal performances in that tournament. This was enough for him to win the Jimmy Murphy award and earn the Argentinian a promotion into Erik ten Hag’s first team squad. Since then, the young winger has worked his way up to being a regular starter for the Dutch manager.
Thus, Mainoo will be hoping, having won the Jimmy Murphy young player award, he too will be given the chances to become a first team regular.
In the 22/23 season, Mainoo made big strides forward in his career.
The young Englishman became a regular first teamer for the U23’s in Premier League 2, gaining further experience in the EFL Trophy, before being given his first opportunity to be on the bench for United’s senior team, in a 0-0 draw against Newcastle in October.
Just three months later, Mainoo was given his official debut for the first team against Charlton Athletic in the EFL Cup, which United later went onto win the whole competition. Such victory earnt Mainoo his first piece of senior United silverware.
The young midfielder then went onto come off the bench in a 3-1 win against Reading in the FA Cup, before making his Premier League debut in a substitute appearance against Leicester in February.
Now recently, in United’s pre season tour, Mainoo starred for the red devils.
Ten Hag put faith in the youngster, giving him starting appearances for United’s ‘first 11,’ rather than the youthful team that appeared in the second half of games.
Kobbie Mainoo’s preseason by numbers:
🏟️ 4 games
⏱️ 141 mins played
⚽ 116 touches
🎯 92% pass accuracy
🚀 83/90 passes completed
⚔️ 8/11 ground duels won
🌟 4/4 dribbles completed
💨 4 interceptions
🔑 1 key pass
🅰️ 1 assist
Manchester United have an unbelievable talent. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/CsywDSw7zI
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) August 8, 2023
From this pre-season, Mainoo was the standout positive for United, capable of matching the first teamers performances, if not surpassing them.
In an expression of faith, Ten Hag started the youngster against 14-time Champions League winners, Real Madrid.
Unfortunately, Mainoo suffered an early injury and was forced off within five minutes.
Subsequently, the young midfielder will be out for the first part of United’s season.
This is a blow for Ten Hag and United, but due to his impressive showing in the games before his injury, its likely Mainoo will be given first team chances to see if he can perform on the biggest stages.
What Mainoo can bring to United
At just 5’7, Mainoo possesses a small stature, which is evident when he’s competing with significantly larger players.
This would be particularly emphasised if the youngster ever duelled against Newcastle’s Dan Burn.
However, what you notice instantly with Mainoo is his superb physicality.
He won’t be the midfielder you want to dominate in the air, but when in possession, Mainoo is an artist when it comes to shielding the ball. His lower centre of gravity, combined with his expert use of his body, ensures Mainoo keeps the ball away from the opposition, no matter their size or strength. When in possession, Mainoo feels like a controlling and dictating midfielder, who can just ease past the opposition, using his clever dribbling and artistic shielding.
Such qualities are backed up by a strong passing range, which enables the youngster to play the tricker longer passes, whilst also having that knack to play the intricate and delicate shorter balls.
In addition, in pre-season, Mainoo’s versatility was exemplified when Ten Hag used him as a deep lying midfielder, with the responsibility of covering Aaron Wan Bissaka when he ventured forward. Despite being out of position, Mainoo looked comfortable and impressed in this fluid role.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) July 24, 2023
‘Calm’ and ‘controlled,’ would be two words which just epitomise the young midfielder. When on and off the ball, Mainoo looks in complete control and totally aware of everything going on. Often players can look reckless and be rash on the ball, but Mainoo strolls around the pitch as if he’s just playing at Sunday League level. This composure is a quality attribute, just illustrating his maturity at only 18-years of age.
Therefore, in this United side, Mainoo could go onto be exceptional.
His unique calmness when in possession, matched with his ability to expertly shield the ball and dribble away from the opposition, gives Ten Hag a profile he was seeking for so long when trying to sign Frenkie de Jong. Mainoo can provide United with a progressive dribbler, who is comfortable and has quality on the ball.
Currently, Ten Hag’s first choice midfield, would be Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount and Casemiro.
This midfield has lots of positives, but it can be defensively weak and lacks that controlling profile.
With the right development, Mainoo could fill this void, as he’s more defensively aware than both Fernandes and Mount, whilst having that dribbling ability and quality on the ball to strengthen United offensively.
Against Wolves in United’s first game of the 23/24 season, the midfield of Casemiro, Fernandes and Mount was gaping. United were exploited countless times through the middle, with both Fernandes and Mount in no mans land.
Ten Hag will need to find a way to fix this and the use of Mainoo could be a real option to do just that.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen how Mainoo will perform outside of pre-season in competitive fixtures, but from the quality shown in pre-season, with the right development, Mainoo is destined to become a world class midfielder, worth in excess of £100m, which will save United from paying this fee to bring in a different player.