The marriage between Manchester United and academy prospects is one for the ages, and Mason Greenwood is the latest person to bare witness to that. The 18-year-old has lit up the Premier League this season and continues to show why, for me, he’s the best prospect there is in the Premier League.
Mason Greenwood in 2019/20
Having shown his ability in the age-group level of the game, Greenwood was afforded the opportunity to show off his skills in the Premier League this season – an opportunity which he has seized with both hands.
In his 38 appearances across all competitions this season, Greenwood has found the back of the net on 14 occasions – providing four assists for his teammates.
He’s appeared mostly from the bench throughout the season, playing on the right wing as the backup to winger Daniel James. Right wing isn’t Greenwood’s natural position, but he’s shown that’s no issue at all so far.
Greenwood’s ability has turned a lot of heads so far this season, drawing comparisons to some legends. Some have even suggested he has an ability ceiling that would rival that of former United star Cristiano Ronaldo, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Intelligent, athletically gifted and a wand of a left foot
If anyone ever asks you to briefly sum up Mason Greenwood, that’s the line you should use.
“He’s intelligent, athletically gifted and has a wand of a left foot.”
The intelligence he has is the main thing that stands out to me. Whether he’s on the ball or not, he has an incredible intellect for the offensive side of the game. The most important thing to note is his spatial awareness.
Greenwood is the type of player who could find a yard of space in a crowded telephone box, and that’s because he uses his eyes. Before he calls for a ball, you’ll see his head dart from side-to-side as he quickly examines his surroundings, adjusting his positioning accordingly.
While to the armchair fan that may sound like something rather basic, that level of awareness and intellect is something that very few 18-year-old’s possess. You’ll always find him in space.
The next thing I like about Greenwood is his unselfishness. While, as a youngster, he played mostly as a centre-forward and has the impressive goal-scoring record to go along with that fact, he’s an incredibly unselfish player.
By that, I don’t just mean he passes the ball a lot – which he does. There’s more to it than that – it’s the little movements he makes, drifting in off the left wing, bringing the full-back with him. It’s the way he’s always thinking two steps in advance.
While some youngsters may be tempted to hang off the last man, teetering on the edge of offside, screaming for a through ball, Greenwood plays differently. He’ll come back on himself and offer up an alternative option for the man on the ball or he’ll be the one to make that decoy run.
When he plays off the right wing, he dominates the half-space and is a constant presence between the lines – causing an absolute nightmare for defenders. To add to that, he always has his head up and, if there’s a player in a better position that he is, he has the unselfishness and, much more than that, the ability, to pick them out.
He has the footballing IQ of a player 5-10 years his elder and, fortunately, the athletic ability to go along with that.
The stats are thus: Greenwood stands at 5’11” tall and as a result, is the tallest of the United main attacking threats. Despite that, he still as the agility, speed, and power that most players could only dream of.
Physically, Greenwood is very like his Manchester United teammate Marcus Rashford – just a smidgen taller. That raw athleticism Rashford possesses can also be seen in Greenwood – maybe they just have the same personal trainer?
While he has the ability to shirk a challenge, wrestle you off the ball and hit you with a crunching tackle, Greenwood also has the ability to absolutely rinse most players in a footrace. Remember the Cristiano comparison? That’s a major reason why…
What’s the point in having all the brains and the brawn unless you’ve got the touch of quality to go alongside it? Not to worry, Greenwood has that in the bag too. His left foot can be utterly magnificent at times, be it smashing one into the top corner or feathering a cross onto the head of a teammate in the area.
It must be said that this can also be something of an issue at times. Greenwood is fairly one-footed and, as a result, tends to cut inside to try and find an angle for a shot – making it easy for an experienced defender to anticipate and block the effort.
He likes to cut in, stick the ball onto his stronger foot and lash one towards the near corner of the goal. The accuracy is there, the quality is there and, perhaps most notably, the power is most-certainly there for all to see.
Flaws wise, there aren’t a whole bunch to pick from. The fact that he is one-footed is something that, as time goes on, he’ll find a way to work around. One-footedness is far from a fatal disease and, if he has the right attitude, he’ll already be working on finding a cure on the training ground.
Meanwhile, another notable drawback for Greenwood is his lack of aerial presence. He’s not a natural aerial threat and, while I expect he’s also working hard on that, he’s going to have to work harder if he wants to play in a central role in the Premier League.
Finally, off the ball runs in the area are somewhat of a concern. He’s the type to stand on the penalty spot and await a delivery – which is something that can be coached out of a player in all honesty.
Any other Premier League stars the same age as him to present a clear rival?
While there are certainly some incredible young players in the Premier League right now – the likes of Mason Mount, Billy Gilmour, Matty Longstaff (Sshhhhh, let me have this one) – none of them compare to Greenwood in my eyes.
The most notable comparison I see is Arsenal’s Brazilian youngster Gabriel Martinelli. He’s done something similar to Greenwood in this, his breakout season.
Also at 18-years-old, Martinelli has many similar attributes to Greenwood in that he his intelligent, knows how to score goals and has an incredibly high ability ceiling. To me, he’s the clear threat to Greenwood’s crown.
Despite that, Greenwood edges it for me based on what I’ve seen of the pair this season. The Englishman is a constant presence in every game he takes part in, while Martinelli isl slightly rougher around the edges.
While it may not directly correlate, I also think that Greenwood is in a better environment to flourish. Manchester United are renowned for churning out incredible talent from their youth system and using them in their first team.
In the 2018/19 season, 30 of United’s 65 Premier League goals were scored by academy graduates. Producing talent is a vital part of the blueprint at Manchester United and, as a result of that, there isn’t a better place for someone like Greenwood to be at this stage in his career.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is a big believer in giving youth a chance too. In fact, Manchester United striker target Erling Braut Haaland was afforded his first opportunity by Solksjaer during their time together at Molde.
Within the next few years, so long as he continues to get the game-time and show the correct attitude, Mason Greenwood could go on to become one of Europe’s top players. I thoroughly believe that. His ceiling is incredibly high – let’s just hope Manchester United can continue to be an effective step-ladder…