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Thursday, July 18, 2024

‘We obviously did something right’: the club that gave Kobbie Mainoo his start

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“He said his first club was Cheadle & Gatley,” says Steve Vare, who beams with pride at being Kobbie Mainoo’s first coach at the grassroots club based in Stockport. “I’m not saying in any great shape or form that we’ve made him the player he is today, but what we did do was give him the start in his footballing life. We obviously did something right.”Mainoo is with England at Euro 2024 at the end of a breakthrough season in which he made a memorable cameo in his international debut against Brazil and was one of the bright spots in a disappointing campaign for Manchester United, culminating in his goal in the FA Cup final against Manchester City. But before his rapid rise to domestic and international stardom he began his career at the football school Vare ran for seven years.The two-hour Sunday morning sessions aimed at four- to six-year-olds were part of Vare’s almost 40-year association with football and volunteering at the club. He played through every age group and got involved again when his three sons started playing for the club. His boys are now 22, 20 and 16. Mainoo joined at the age of five, spending nine months there.Vare recounts seeing Mainoo for the first time and being blown away by his talent. “In terms of gauging one five-year-old against another; Kobbie stood out by an absolute mile. You don’t ever know, but clearly with Kobbie effort, time, commitment and obviously ability are why he’s the player he is today. As a five-year-old, he was an exceptional and outstanding player.”Vare says he had chats with Mainoo’s dad, Felix, on how to challenge Kobbie and that was the biggest difficulty of his job. “I used to load up the opposing team with the best players, and Kobbie would find a way to win the game on his own!”As well as the undoubted quality Mainoo demonstrated, there is a sense his persona set him on the path to excellence. “He had this belief and confidence in himself,” says Vare. “But that was for me confidence, not arrogance. He’s very laid-back, down to earth, grounded – maybe that’s his Ghanaian roots. It is certainly his parenting and the support network that he has around him now.”Kobbie Mainoo during a training session in Blankenhain. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/The FA/Getty ImagesThe Mainoo family plays a leading role in supporting Kobbie. Felix was hands-on with his development and the whole family are in Germany cheering him on. The midfielder recently said he is proud of his heritage but that it was a dream to play for England.His family are private. Kobbie visits Ghana regularly but little else is known about him personally. An avid Alchemist listener, low key, what does he prefer to tuck into on Sundays: fufu and light soup or banku and okra stew? There is a sense he has got this far by tuning out the noise; his family would not have it any other way.Before joining Manchester United at the age of seven, he had a short spell at another local club, Failsworth Dynamos. It was becoming clear he needed to be as close as possible to professional academy football.“I kept saying: ‘Look, we’ve got this five-year-old that is good enough to be played in an under-sevens or under-eights team,” says Vare of his battle to keep coaching Mainoo. “But the manager [in the higher age-groups] said: ‘Well, what can I do? We’ve got probably three or four more players than we need to have in our teams. We can’t accept another one.’”skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionOther alumni of the club include Wrexham’s George Evans and Hallam Hope, who has just been released by Oldham. The social media attention on Cheadle & Gatley since the Euros began has been described as “Mainoo-mania”. The club treasurer, Richard Hubbard, who has been with Cheadle & Gatley for more than a decade, is hoping it has a lasting impact on other volunteers and the production line of English grassroots football as a whole. The club also runs girls’ teams and recently had their first female player, Manchester United’s Holly Dearing, turn professional.Could the club develop another Mainoo? “Every year we probably produce 100 new players for the soccer school, that’s how hard it is,” says Hubbard. “If we could produce the next one, for me it would be a young female. When I was growing up there wasn’t the opportunity there. It would be fantastic if it was a young lady that played for the Lionesses or something of that nature.”Kobbie Mainoo during his first England start against Belgium. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The GuardianThe club have six adult teams for 18- to 30-year-olds in addition to the junior sides that Vare and Mainoo played for. “Kids have gone off to university or gone off and moved around the country and come back to the area and the first thing they do is come back to play for us. It leaves an indelible mark on your temperament.”With England’s Euros campaign stuttering, perhaps it is time to trust Mainoo to deliver. One thing is certain, believers such as Vare, Hubbard and countless others would see him as a wise choice.

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