17-year-old Greenwood breaks United record
It is a sure-fire sign of a player having something special when he is bestowed with his own song on only his second senior start and, true to his new terrace chant, Mason Greenwood provided just the sort of “dynamite” Manchester United needed on a difficult night.
There is probably never a bad time for a 17-year-old to claim his first goal for United but boy was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer grateful to Greenwood for his moment of inspiration. This was threatening to become an embarrassing night’s work for a much-changed United against the champions of Kazakhstan when Greenwood stepped up, grabbed a limp game by the scruff of the neck and underlined why his manager rates him as one of the most naturally instinctive finishers he has ever seen.
Still 12 days short of his 18th birthday, Greenwood’s goal made him United’s youngest ever scorer in Europe, eclipsing the record set by Marcus Rashford against Midtjylland in 2016. Rashford is an obvious reference point for Greenwood, a striker who has taken precisely the steps the teenager is now doing, but this was a frustrating evening for the more senior Englishman and he will have been grateful that Greenwood managed to find his way to goal because it was a task that eluded him.
And what a goal it was. It was hard to pick a way through the mass of bodies in the penalty area when Greenwood received Fred’s pass 17 minutes from time but the striker had only one intention. Greenwood can shift his weight effortlessly from one side to the next, a virtue in part of being completely twofooted. Dorin Rotariu barely knew what day it was as the United striker turned inside with his left and created enough space to drill home a precise shot with his right through the legs of Nenad Eric, a skill in itself. Defenders will learn quickly that Greenwood cannot be pushed towards a weaker side because he does not have one.
“Mason .... Greenwood’s dynamite, he scores them with his left and he scores them with his right,” goes that song. There have been quality players who hung around for years at United and never got their own song so Greenwood should count himself pretty privileged. Solskjaer allowed Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to leave this summer without bringing in a replacement which, in itself, is a huge show of faith in Greenwood and this was certainly a first step towards repaying that trust.
“It was the right decision for the club and for him,” Solskjaer said. “He’s going to be important this season. He has not played a lot so far but he will get his minutes and he will grow and develop.
“He is great to watch. To get him inside the box you know something is going to happen, and he can go inside, he can go outside, it was a great finish, through the legs of the keeper. It is very natural for him to score goals. He showed glimpses of what he can become. He doesn’t change his demeanour if he scores or misses.”
A new contract will also be on its way soon. “We are always in talks with the boys,” Solskjaer said. “Mason is obviously one we will want to keep with us.”
Watch the way Greenwood moves and strikes the ball and it is hard not to think of Robin van Persie. There is a very long way to go before he can lay any sort of genuine comparison to the former United, Arsenal and Holland striker but, aesthetically, there are obvious similarities. This was a game Solskjaer will want to move on quickly from. “I didn’t feel confident we were going to win until the referee blew his whistle,” the manager said.
Astana packed men behind the ball and United found them hard to break down and, when they did, Rashford’s shooting boots deserted him. Four chances passed him by in the first period, with Fred also hitting the crossbar. It was, though, all about Greenwood in the end.
Class act: Mason Greenwood finishes clinically to seal the United victory