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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Mainoo’s shirt number shows he has defied expectations, surpassed Bellingham breakthrough – opinion

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England have a date with destiny and a chance at redemption when they face Spain in the finals of the Euros after beating the Netherlands 2-1 in the semi-finals.

The star of the show wasn’t on the scoresheet, but the scoresheet wouldn’t be the same if he wasn’t in the team, and that player is Kobbie Mainoo.

The Manchester United midfielder continued his masterful midfield displays with another composed display on the big stage, looking like he doesn’t just belong, he leads.

The England number 26 sent a message to the whole world that he has shattered all expectations of him which were placed at the start of the tournament. Here’s why-

England's midfielder #26 Kobbie Mainoo reacts  during the UEFA Euro 2024 semi-final football match between the Netherlands and England at the BVB S...

Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

England number 26, and a pleasant surprise

It is worth noting that Mainoo was a late call to the England side after initial plans were of slowly bedding him in after this tournament.

He didn’t even start the first game of the tournament and it was only after he started changing games off the bench that he was trusted with a starting position.

That role in the squad is reflected in his Mainoo’s shirt number. The England number 26 is the highest number in the squad, generally a marker of how much a player is expected to contribute to the team.

It is why youth players deem it a “promotion” when they receive a new, smaller squad number after their breakthrough in the senior team.

This season at United itself, the likes of Willy Kambwala and Harry Amass have seen this happen firsthand after performing well last season.

For context, Adam Wharton, with squad number 25 (second-highest), has yet to see the pitch in competitive action during the tournament, making it clear how low the expectations were from Mainoo.

A sparkling legacy of England number 26

Mainoo is not the first Englishman to wear No 26 and go on the path of superstardom for England. For Euros 2020 (happened in 2021), a certain Jude Bellingham was sporting the England number 26 shirt.

The then-18-year-old Bellingham became England’s youngest player to feature in a Euros knockout game when he came off the bench against Croatia.

However, even Bellingham didn’t make nearly the same impact as Mainoo is having now. The Real Madrid midfielder played just 55 minutes of football over three appearances as England went to the finals against Italy.

In contrast, Mainoo is already the first name on the teamsheet and is the heartbeat of the team, making them tick as he knits the attack and defence and setting all-time records.

Chelsea’s Connor Gallagher was England number 26 when they traveled to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup and he was an important presence too but, of course, he was already a fairly established Premier League player by then.

Mainoo has gone from a player who was turning out for United’s U18 side at the start of last season to blowing past expectations and leading his nation to a major final.

Shattering expectations is quickly becoming a theme in a sparkling career.

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