Incred­i­ble progress for a teenag­er.

Until 2023, only the most devot­ed Man­ches­ter Unit­ed fans knew about Kob­by Maina. By March 2024, the 18-year-old mid­field­er had found him­self as one of the team’s key fig­ures in mid­field, mak­ing his Eng­land debut and earn­ing com­par­isons to Paul Pog­ba. Erik ten Hag dotes on him, and Har­ry Neville believes that for the next ten years the world will be at his feet: “The main thing is not to get car­ried away by fame.”

Product of the Academy, immediately flew into the foundation

Cob­by is a native of Stock­port, a city locat­ed about 10 kilo­me­ters from Man­ches­ter. At the age of nine he joined the Red Dev­ils’ acad­e­my and then began play­ing for Eng­land teams at var­i­ous ages. Ini­tial­ly, the coach­es saw him as a strik­er, but over time, Mainu staked out a place in the cen­ter of mid­field.

The boy stood out among his peers, so at the age of 15 he already played for the U‑18 team, where he shone togeth­er with Ale­jan­dro Gar­na­cho. In the 2021/22 sea­son, Cob­by helped Man­ches­ter Unit­ed win the FA Youth Cup, after which he signed his first pro­fes­sion­al con­tract with the club.

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In Jan­u­ary 2023, Mainu unex­pect­ed­ly made his debut in the main team: he start­ed in the match with Charl­ton (3:0) in the quar­ter finals of the League Cup. Then it seemed like a one-time event, with­out any seri­ous claims for min­utes in the future.

Every­thing changed after the sum­mer pre­sea­son. Ten Hag gave Mein a lot of play­ing time in friend­ly match­es. A strong mid­field­er with good tech­nique and field vision was giv­en a spe­cial role: Cob­by dropped deep, in line with the defend­ers, launch­ing attacks by advanc­ing the ball or long pass­es. The teenag­er looked so con­fi­dent that no one doubt­ed that he would soon make his debut in the Eng­lish Cham­pi­onship.

How­ev­er, his debut had to be post­poned — every­thing was spoiled by an ankle injury, due to which he was forced to miss August, Sep­tem­ber and most of Octo­ber. But after return­ing from the hos­pi­tal, Cob­by imme­di­ate­ly got into the main squad for the Pre­mier League match with Ever­ton (3:0). After the game he was rec­og­nized as the best foot­ball play­er of the meet­ing.

Since then, Mainu has not been out of the pic­ture: he played in the last two rounds of the Cham­pi­ons League, and since the begin­ning of Decem­ber he has been play­ing at least one half in the Pre­mier League, and more often — all 90 min­utes.

Kob­by Mainu.
Pho­to by Glob­al Look Press

Debut goal in the Premier League and the love of the fans (and the joy of Sir Alex)

On Feb­ru­ary 1, Man­ches­ter Unit­ed played an incred­i­bly dra­mat­ic match with Wolver­hamp­ton (4:3). The Man­cu­ni­ans snatched vic­to­ry in the 7th added minute thanks to Main. The mid­field­er sneaked into the penal­ty area alone and cool­ly sent the ball into the far cor­ner, scor­ing his debut goal in the Pre­mier League. Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, who was in the stands at Old Traf­ford, said the play­er’s name in a joy­ful out­burst, which was includ­ed in the tele­vi­sion broad­cast.

Bruno Fer­nan­des admit­ted after the final whis­tle that he has long been a fan of the young tal­ent: “Mainu is a huge tal­ent, I saw him for U‑18 a few years ago. There was a friend of mine in Man­ches­ter who went to the youth team match­es, and I said that he should watch Cob­by play. But then we didn’t know that he would become such a big foot­ball play­er.”

Soon the love of Man­ches­ter Unit­ed fans also fell on Maina. They began to com­pare him to Paul Pog­ba and Yaya Toure. At the same time, Mainu remains rea­son­able and con­tin­ues to work hard in train­ing, not pay­ing atten­tion to the con­ver­sa­tions. He is so mod­est that he still uses reg­u­lar park­ing at the base, with­out enter­ing the base park­ing spaces where the sports cars of Rash­ford and oth­er stars are parked.

Kob­by Mainu and Kevin De Bruyne.
Pho­to by Reuters

What makes Mainu unique?

In total, Kob­by has made 20 appear­ances for Man­ches­ter Unit­ed in all com­pe­ti­tions this sea­son. Ten Hag sees him in the mid­field two. He will be paired with Casemiro or Erik­sen. His qual­i­ties help him play both as a destroy­er and as a num­ber eight.

Mainu has incred­i­ble genet­ics and is a phys­i­cal­ly gift­ed play­er with end­less sta­mi­na. At the same time, speed is not his strong point; the Eng­lish­man pass­es oppo­nents through body play and micro-drib­bling.

Anoth­er impor­tant qual­i­ty of Cob­by is his abil­i­ty to escape under pres­sure. In this com­po­nent, he feels like a fish in water: he turns, cov­ers the ball, scans the field and deter­mines the next step in a mat­ter of sec­onds.

Per 90 min­utes, Mainu aver­ages 2.03 tack­les, 84.9% suc­cess­ful pass­es, and 1.1 suc­cess­ful drib­bles. Good num­bers for an 18-year-old in his first full sea­son at the top lev­el.

The most unusu­al descrip­tion of the young tal­ent came from Har­ry Neville: “It’s hard for me to say this, but I hope that they will under­stand me cor­rect­ly. Kob­by looks like a Man­ches­ter City play­er. When I watched him, I thought that Pep Guardi­o­la would like to see such a play­er in his team.”

Main­u’s rise this sea­son is so bright that Man­ches­ter Unit­ed is prepar­ing a con­tract for him on improved terms, and Gareth South­gate could be includ­ed in the final bid for Euro 2024. Will he be able to with­stand the pres­sure that has fall­en on him at such a young age?