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The making of Mason Greenwood: Discovered by accident before scoring 16 on debut!

6:00 PM EDT 10/2/19
Mason Greenwood Man Utd
As Goal found out from those who have overseen the forward's meteoric rise, Old Trafford's next great hope has always been destined for the top

John O’Shea almost got there during his days as a rampaging left-back.

Wes Brown was certainly on the right track after keeping Lionel Messi quiet in both legs of Manchester United’s 2008 Champions League semi-final triumph over Barcelona but the defender's career was derailed by injuries.

Darren Fletcher, meanwhile, occasionally ran the show in midfield but not consistently enough to satisfy Sir Alex Ferguson.

Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene with a bang, bagging a double against Arsenal in 2016, and yet, despite possessing a range of attacking qualities, he has yet to score more than 10 league goals in a single season.

It's harsh, of course, to demand more from a 21-year-old, but this is Manchester United; they expect the best.

Over the years, numerous youngsters have battled through the academy ranks at Old Trafford to reach the first team. Many have won titles, some are European champions, but none have come close to emulating the achievements of David Beckham and Co. during Ferguson’s trophy-laden tenure.

However, there is a new hope in Manchester, one who has been the talk of the town for a while: a 17-year-old who already has his own song on the terraces and who, since the age of six, has not stopped turning heads, or scoring goals.

Mason Greenwood has two in two senior starts for United this season, having followed his fine goal against Astana in the Europa League with another excellent finish against Rochdale last week.

However, his immediate success in the first team is no surprise to the man who helped discover – somewhat accidentally – one of the most exciting United fledglings in years.

"Scouts saw him when he wasn’t even playing; they were watching another player that day," Mark Senior, a former coach at United’s development centres throughout Yorkshire, explains to Goal.

"Mason just wanted to join a local team in Bradford called Idle Juniors, but he wasn’t old enough, so he was kicking a ball around on the side of the pitch, waiting for his sixth birthday.

"As soon as he was six, we made sure we had someone to watch his first game.

"The team he was playing for had never won a game, and I am not sure they had even scored a goal. Then, Mason scored 16 on his debut and they won 16-1. A six-year-old made the local newspaper!"

The idea of United’s development centres is to start their proteges on their path to the top, providing them with a clear route of progression.

The better players from their Halifax centre would then go on to United’s advanced centre in Huddersfield, with the cream of the crop invited to the club’s Salford training centre, The Cliff, to play small-sided games on a Sunday.

Sometimes it takes months, even years, for these youngsters to make it to The Cliff. But Bradford-born Greenwood impressed straight away.

"He came to our development centre the night his goals from the weekend had made the local newspaper," Senior reveals. "I got there a little bit early and Mason was already there in the car park smashing balls against the wall, with both feet. It was incredible.

"I asked him, 'So, are you this Mason who scored 16 goals at the weekend? Was it a bit easy for you?' He looked at me and said, 'If it weren't for me, we would have lost 1-0.'

"He went straight into the development centre in Huddersfield, into the age group above his own. Every single club quickly got wind of Mason, so then they were all after him."

Keeping a player of such prodigious ability grounded is a difficult task, but United have always done an excellent job of protecting their young talents from external distractions.

The problem with Greenwood was that everything he did was attracting attention.

Senior adds: "We would go down to The Cliff to train with our youngsters (from the Huddersfield centre) and we would be asking the other coaches – who have seen some of the best young talent to come through the ranks – what they thought about Mason and they were saying, 'This boy is special!'

"We used to joke and say, 'If he doesn’t make it, we may as well all pack in!'

"You have a feeling about some people, you think that if this particular player grows and develops, then he has a chance.

"But with Mason, it was obvious. No coach can claim to develop a player like him; he has just got it.

"Everything we taught him, he would pick it up within 30 seconds. There was almost no point coaching him.

"I am pretty sure he broke the 100 metres record when he was around 13 for Great Britain Schools.

"The story goes that he got out of his car at this athletics meeting and beat everyone by four or five seconds, with no-warm up. He then played around with his football by the car, and went home."

Many a young talent has found it tougher and tougher to shine as the standard rises year after year but Greenwood looked in a class of his own at every age grade.

He averaged a goal a game for United’s Under-18s and 23s sides, attracting recognition for spectacular goals through YouTube, with his free-kick stunner against Newcastle Under-23s earlier this year proving particularly popular.

England came calling soon enough and, true to form, Greenwood picked up the award for goal of the tournament as the Under-18s beat Netherlands, France and Russia to win the Limoges Cup 12 months ago.

"He has the X-factor, he scores fantastic goals," former England Under-18s coach Neil Dewsnip tells Goal.

"I saw him in the youth cup for United against Chelsea and he scored a couple of goals that night that were Michael Owen-esque – running through three or four players from the halfway line.

"I played him up front with Arsenal's Bukayo Saka, or out wide. He can play anywhere up there – he is superb.

"Could he evolve into Manchester United's No.9? Without a doubt. He just loves playing. He is not arrogant, he just wants to be the best he can be, because he knows he has got what it takes."

It was only a matter of time before he progressed to the senior squad and his competitive debut arrived in the epic Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes in March, underlining just how great an impression the forward had made upon manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

An impressive cameo against Southampton earlier this season, with Greenwood nearly getting the winner at St Mary's, only added to the sense of excitement among the fans.

The question they were all asking themselves was: How does a player born in 2001 look so calm in an otherwise chaotic United team?

"It is so natural what he does,” United youngster Aidan Barlow – who has played with Greenwood since the age of nine – tells Goal.

"It is like he is born to do it, and has been like that since he was nine. He has never changed; two-footed since he was young. Him being in the first team so young was never in doubt.

"He is a top lad. He is funny, he is a real character, but he can be quiet as well. He is a humble guy.

"Seeing him doing so well serves as an inspiration to us all."

Injuries and the refusal to replace either Romelu Lukaku or Alexis Sanchez have left United short of attacking options in recent weeks.

Solskjaer, though, has been quick to defend his decision not to bring in a new centre-forward in the summer, with his counterargument often featuring the name presently on everyone’s lips at Old Trafford.

Greenwood tormented defences as a six-year-old, scored goals with both feet for fun at every youth level, and now he is set to lead the attack in Thursday night's Europa League clash with AZ.

Given Greenwood’s unblemished track record, and the fact that he has only just turned 18, maybe, just maybe, he will be the one to finally emulate the achievements of the Class of '92.

"Every time he plays, at any level, he produces," Senior argues. "There is no reason to think he cannot keep doing it at United. Fans have been calling for him for a while.

“He was not cocky, he was a nice kid, he was just confident. Alan Smith was similar to that when he was a kid. He was the same in what he would say – some people just know they are going to play at a high level, even when so young.

"The sky is the limit for Mason Greenwood."