If there’s one thing that Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should know, it’s how to bring out the best in strikers.
Solskjaer was one of the club’s most iconic strikers himself and of course famously scored the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final, the year United won the treble.
However, questions have to be raised this season as to whether the boss is bringing out the best in teenage prodigy, Mason Greenwood.
Last season, Solskjaer eased Greenwood into the starting XI gradually. The teenager made 31 Premier League appearances for the club, 19 off the bench and 12 starting. 10 of the 12 starts came in the last 11 games of the season.
Solskjaer’s patience with Greenwood was rewarded as he finished the season strongly and notched 19 goals in all competitions in his first full term for the Reds.
Most people expected Mason to kick on this season, but with 15 games gone, he has scored just three goals.
Whatever is going on behind the scenes, what is clear on the pitch is that the England man is not getting a steady run of games and is enduring a very stop-start time under the Norwegian.
In the opening game of the season, a 3-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace, Solskjaer hauled Greenwood off at half-time. It could be argued that the 19-year-old had been far from United’s worst player in those 45 minutes.
Greenwood was then dropped for the next match – an EFL Cup tie against Luton Town, but scored a goal and got an assist in just 12 minutes when brought off the bench.
He was then subbed, an unused sub, subbed, not in squad, not in squad and given seven minutes off the bench before finally starting again against RB Leipzig on 28th October – which he celebrated with a goal. He was then subbed in that game, then subbed again, given 14 minutes, not in squad, not in squad, given 31 minutes (in which he provided an assist), hauled off at half time vs Southampton and given 11 minutes before finally playing his first whole 90 minutes of the season against West Ham, where he also scored a goal, followed by another 90.
Then the pattern starts to repeat itself again – subbed, subbed, unused sub and subbed off again last night against Everton.
There could be very good reasons for this highly interrupted schedule. There have been rumours of disciplinary issues on and around the time that Greenwood broke Covid isolation restrictions to entertain a young lady in his hotel room while on England duty. There was also a mystery illness that Solskjaer seemed uncomfortable trying to explain, there may be stamina issues that prevent him from completing 90 minutes and there may also still be an element of keeping the player in cotton wool due to his young age.
However, you cannot help but get the feeling that Solskjaer is making life very difficult for the Bradford-born man. He always seems to be the first player to be brought off – even when United are chasing the game. He is rested more often than he starts (10 starts out of 22 games). Greenwood’s rhythm and confidence must be challenged under these circumstances.
We should also not forget that the young star is still playing most of his games in the right wing position when his natural role as striker, which must add to the difficulty factor of what he is being expected to do under Solskjaer.
Without knowing all the facts behind these decisions, it must be said that Solskjaer is in danger of holding Greenwood back at a time when he should be pushing on. He needs to be given a regular run and encouraged rather than going in and out of the side like a fiddler’s elbow.
Greenwood is one of the best teenage players in world football, his value second only to Barcelona’s Ansu Fati, according to Transfermarkt. Whatever Solskjaer’s reasons are for his staccato selections, he needs to re-examine them and put more faith in the player at this crucial stage in his career.
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