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‘Very few players like that’: Gary Neville likens Kobbie Mainoo to £17m Sir Alex Ferguson signing

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The sky appears to be the limit for Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo.

Few could have predicted such a meteoric rise for Mainoo even a year ago.

The Stockport-born midfielder had shown potential but had made just three appearances heading into this season.

Mainoo has completedly exploded this term, making himself almost undroppable in Erik ten Hag’s midfield.

The poise, composure and maturity of Mainoo has been simply astonishing to watch this season and the hype is only building.

Mainoo came off the bench for his England debut against Brazil on Saturday, earning praise from Gareth Southgate in the process.

Mainoo then started against Belgium and only went and won the Man of the Match award, turning in another exceptional performance.

It would now feel like a surprise if Mainoo doesn’t make the England squad for Euro 2024 and his rise just shows no sign of slowing down.


Mainoo showed off his talent for England’s opening goal, collecting the ball from deep and driving into space to create a chance.

The United prospect isn’t just impressive on the ball though as he has displayed defensive abilities too.

Gary Neville has now praised Mainoo whilst speaking on The Overlap and drew particular attention to his defensive play.

Neville highlighted Mainoo getting back to tackle Belgium winger Jeremy Doku, something he feels that himself and Jamie Carragher just couldn’t have done.

Neville thinks that Mainoo’s defensive awareness is ‘fantastic’ for a young player and compared his tackling ability to that of former United teammate Owen Hargreaves.

The pundit feels that there are very few players like Mainoo and Hargreaves around in terms of their belief to tackle opponents, praising their ability to break up play.

“Is he a holding midfield player? The answer is yes and no, in the sense that when actually goes back to defend in his own box, his positions are fantastic,” said Neville. “His awareness of danger and runs into the box and blocking pull backs and things like that, it’s incredible for a young player.”

“There was a moment in the second half where Doku went past him and he got back at Doku and took the ball off him and went and slid in. You can’t do that unless you’re… I used to think Owen Hargreaves could do that for Manchester United. Owen Hargreaves was a great tackler in midfield, he would go and take the ball off people. He’s got that about him, where he goes and takes the ball off people. If me and you were playing against Doku, once he’s gone, we’re not getting back at him. Also, we’d drop off him to make sure he’d pass it. He will go and think ‘I’m going to take the ball off Doku’ and there are very few players like that,” he added.

  • READ MORE: Who is Kobbie Mainoo? Inside the life of Man Utd’s rising star, including his parents, brother and school

England v Belgium - International Friendly

Photo by Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Owen Hargreaves profile

Hargreaves had a fascinating profile having been born in Canada to a Welsh mother and English father, making him eligible for all three countries.

After initially emerging as a Wales Under-19 international whilst playing for Bayern Munich, Hargreaves committed to England.

Mainoo is in a somewhat similar boat given that he could also play for Ghana if he changes his mind on England.

Hargreaves racked up 42 caps for England but was often criticised before shining at the 2006 World Cup.

One year after that tournament and with more than 200 Bayern appearances under his belt, Sir Alex Ferguson convinced Hargreaves to join United in a £17million move.

Hargreaves helped United win the Premier League and Champions League in his first season at the club, scoring a memorable free kick against Arsenal.

Injury problems then ravaged Hargreaves as he managed just five appearances across the next three seasons, going down as one of the more disappointing United signings given that we were hardly able to see his quality.

Hargreaves moved on to Manchester City but played just four times before hanging up his boots and becoming a pundit.

United fans will be looking for Mainoo to make more of a long-lasting impact than Hargreaves did but Neville clearly sees shades of the former England star in Mainoo’s game at this early stage.

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