Manchester United’s famous academy has produced an array of incredible talents including the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford. However, for all of its success, United’s academy has lacked the production of a truly great center-forward with world-class potential. Enter Mason Greenwood.
Mason Greenwood was born in October 2001 in the small village of Wibsey near Bradford, England. Greenwood grew up in a family that valued sports and athletics – evidenced by his sister, Ashton’s, sprinting career.
Subsequently, Greenwood grew up loving the beautiful game and was a boyhood Manchester United fan, idolizing stars like Wayne Rooney. At the age of 6, the youngster’s love for football saw him begin playing for Idle Juniors, where he scored 16 goals (!) on his debut. Following the breath-taking display, United swiftly swooped in for the talented wonderkid.
Former United academy scout Mark Senior was one of the first to recognize Greenwood’s potential as a future star. Senior told Manchester Evening News:
“When Mason Greenwood came in at six, he could use both feet equally as strong. He was absolutely rapid. As soon as you showed him a little trick or anything, he would just do it straight away.”
“He turned up at the Halifax development center with Manchester United and he used to get there about 20 minutes early because he went there from school. And he used to just be hitting the ball at this bin outside the door. He’d be using both feet.”
Senior continued: “Most kids at seven years of age, you would let it in to give them a bit of confidence. But Mason would smash it in the bottom corner.”
A combination of talent and incredible work ethic saw Greenwood quickly progress through United’s youth ranks, impressing coaches nationwide. The Englishman announced himself to United fans with a memorable hat-trick in a 4-3 victory over Chelsea in an FA Youth Cup tie in December 2018. Greenwood put in a youth performance for the ages, inflicting Chelsea’s first defeat in the competition in over five years.
At the U18 level, Greenwood amassed 34 goals and 9 assists in 34 appearances, averaging a goal involvement every 60.42 minutes. These astounding figures saw the Englishman promoted to United’s U23 squad, where he averaged a goal involvement every 98.14 minutes. Greenwood’s impressive return at the U23 level saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer permanently promote him to United’s first team.
As far as professional debuts go, Greenwood’s is up there with the very best. The youngster debuted for United as a substitute against Paris Saint Germain during United’s historic Champions League comeback in March 2019. Greenwood’s 8-minute cameo was far from memorable, but merely being involved in an iconic game of that magnitude will be a lifelong memory for the boyhood United fan.
At the age of 17 years and 156 days, Greenwood became the youngest player to represent the club in the Champions League era. Four days later, he made his Premier League debut from the bench in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal to become one of United’s youngest league debutants. Greenwood would have to wait until the final day of the 2018/19 season to make his first senior start for the club, impressing heavily in a 2-0 defeat to Cardiff City.
At the end of the 2018/19 season, Greenwood received the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award for his scintillating performances at the youth level. The end of the 2018/19 season marked the end of Greenwood’s youth career, as he would be permanently promoted to United’s first team in the 2019/20 season.
At 19 years of age, Greenwood has astonishingly made 105 appearances for United. The youngster’s large number of appearances will provide a large enough sample to analyze his playing style in depth.
From an early age, Greenwood attained a reputation as an accurate sharpshooter, able to score effectively with both feet. Through consistent shooting practice, the Englishman has garnered many plaudits for his finishing abilities.
Manchester City’s Phil Foden has stated that Greenwood is the best finisher he has seen, ahead of the likes of Sergio Aguero. Former United captain Gary Neville has likened the youngster to Robin van Persie – a comparison that has been prevalent since Greenwood’s time with the U18’s.
Greenwood showcased his immaculate finishing in the 2019/20 season, particularly excelling during the latter end of the season. An 18-year old Greenwood averaged 0.68 goals per 90 – a phenomenal return for someone of that age. While suffering from an extended goal drought in the 2020/21 season, Greenwood still accumulated 7 goals in the Premier League playing as a winger.
In the duration of his United career so far, Greenwood has outperformed his xG by 5.1. This statistic highlights the Englishman’s finishing abilities and his confidence to shoot from difficult angles. Taking on 2.86 shots per 90, Greenwood falls into the 90th percentile of wingers for this statistic, reinforcing his reputation as a sharpshooter.
With United’s build-up play predominantly occurring on the left side of the pitch, Greenwood often finds himself dwelling on the right. Subsequently, Greenwood only attempts 34.17 passes per 90, with an impressive 83.3% passing accuracy (95th percentile for wingers). Ball retention is an important element of Greenwood’s game from the right, with the youngster often maneuvering through tight areas of the pitch to maintain possession.
In the 2020/21 season, Greenwood averaged 2.57 progressive passes and 1.04 passes into the box per 90. These figures were an improvement from the 2019/20 season, where Greenwood averaged 2.45 progressive passes and 0.68 passes into the box per 90. Edinson Cavani’s world-class movement has allowed Greenwood to play passes more effectively – evident with his first-time cross to Cavani in United’s 3-1 victory over Tottenham in April.
If Greenwood continues to play on the right-wing, he should aim to improve on his 2020/21 average of 0.10 assists per 90. Doing so would ease the creative burden on Bruno Fernandes – although the signing of Jadon Sancho promises to do that.
Greenwood has grown into his role as a right-winger during the 2020/21 season, improving on his dribbling and progressive carries. In 2019/20, Greenwood averaged 6.94 progressive carries per 90. In 2020/21, Greenwood averaged 9.36 progressive carries – a 34.8% increase from 2019/20.
The two-footed forward also has a keen eye for skill moves – often beating defenders with step-overs and roulettes. Greenwood has often mentioned Ronaldo Nazario as someone he idolized growing up – with the Brazilian icon’s use of step-overs inspiring the Englishman.
“My favourite skill move (growing up) was the step over, which I still do to this day. It’s my favourite skill move. I used to watch the Brazilian Ronaldo (do it)… and practise it in parks.”Manchester United Exclusive Interview
The visual below shows Greenwood’s progressive passing reception heatmap for 2019/20 (right) and 2020/21 (left) campaigns.
As shown above, in 2020/21, Greenwood received the ball higher up the pitch, with the majority of passes being received on the right-wing. In 2019/20, Greenwood occasionally drifted to the left wing, a habit which Solskjaer has effectively nullified. Doing so will instill positional discipline in the youngster – preparing him for his future role as United’s starting striker.
Disclaimer: The following is merely a fun personal opinion and is not intended to ‘overhype’ or pressurize the youngster..
In my opinion, Mason Greenwood has one of the highest ceilings in Europe. Should the Englishman continue to work hard and develop his game, there is nothing to indicate that he won’t go down as a Premier League and Manchester United icon.
In the coming years, I predict Greenwood to become Manchester United and England’s starting striker – consistently scoring for both club and country. He will be widely regarded as one of the best players in Europe and will play a pivotal role in United’s quest for silverware.
In the longer term, Greenwood will break Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring records for club and country, finishing his career as United’s greatest ever player. It will not surprise me to see Greenwood win the Ballon D’or someday (no pressure), and his success story will inspire the next generation of Academy starlets.
One can dream…