It was supposed to be the biggest moment of Kobbie Mainoo’s brief, but impactful, Manchester United career.
Being handed the starting berth in midfield against Real Madrid is the stuff of dreams for an academy graduate, but it speaks to the progress Mainoo has made over the past year that Erik ten Hag trusts him to do so.
An impressive performance against Arsenal a few days prior had demonstrated Mainoo’s ability to survive, and thrive, in men’s football. The youngster was the most composed midfielder on a pitch containing Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard; the boy looked special.
Which is why the intervention of the cruel hand of fate was so unwelcome against Madrid.
Mainoo was forced off after two minutes with an injury. The midfielder was felled by an accidental collision and let out a “scream of frustration” at the premature ending of his big moment.
To rub salt into the wound, Real Madrid would score before United were able to bring on a replacement in midfield, Jude Bellingham waltzing through unmarked to finish over Andre Onana with aplomb. Mainoo would undoubtedly have tracked this run.
The youngster was seen leaving the NRG Stadium (Houston, Texas) on crutches after the match.
United are still waiting to find out the extent of the injury, but manager Erik ten Hag has promised him that he will give him more opportunities.
Ten Hag provided an update at the game’s conclusion, but was unable to offer any further clarity on the precise nature of the injury, saying:
“…you can never tell straight after a game. We have to wait for what it is…hopefully, it’s not too bad and then chances will come. First we have to wait for the diagnosis and, from there on, we will set conclusions.”
Ten Hag was “pleased with his performance” against Arsenal and “wanted to see if he could repeat [it], some days after” against Los Blancos.
While United fans were deprived of the chance to see Mainoo combat the talented Madrid midfield, the mere fact he was selected for the role illustrates the faith his manager has in him.
The United starting eleven was essentially their strongest team at present, outside of the conspicuous inclusion of Mainoo. This may suggest, however, the place he ostensibly holds in the squad needs to be re-calibrated. Perhaps Mainoo is part of the strongest possible eleven in Ten Hag’s eyes.
His manager, and fanbase, will be nervously awaiting a positive update on the youngster’s condition, as he may have a surprisingly significant role to play next season.
Latest unconfirmed reports emerging from the United camp seem to suggest that Mainoo is travelling with the rest of his teammates to face Borussia Dortmund on Monday morning.
Whether he will be part of the matchday squad is still not clear but the fact that he has not been sent back to Manchester and is still part of the squad could mean the injury is not as serious as expected.