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Mainoo deserves England call.

Mainoo deserves England call.

In the build-up to every international tournament, there is always a clamour for the flavour of the month to be called into the England squad. Think Michael Owen for the 1998 World Cup, Wayne Rooney for Euro 2004, Phil Foden for the rescheduled Euro 2020 and Jude Bellingham ahead of the last World Cup in Qatar.

Kobbie Mainoo has been the name on every England fans’ lips ahead of Euro 2024 and there was noticeable disappointment among supporters when he was initially left out of Gareth Southgate’s squad for the upcoming friendlies against Brazil and Belgium. But the England manager has had a dramatic change of heart and has called him into his penultimate squad before the tournament.

Mainoo has been impressing in practically every match he has played for United this season since breaking into the first team in November, and was one of the standout players in the Red Devils’ incredible 4-3 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup. His England call-up is richly deserved and now it’s time for him to sprinkle his magic on the biggest stage.

Injury pain to indispensable

It is no exaggeration to say Mainoo has transformed United’s fortunes since returning to action in November following a long spell out with an ankle injury suffered in pre-season. Mainoo was the player everyone had been talking about during United’s tour of the United States after giving glimpses of his potential last season.

However, his progress was cruelly de-railed by a freak injury suffered against Real Madrid in Houston, when Casemiro tackled Rodrygo and the forward landed on Mainoo’s foot in just the second minute. The midfielder left the NRG Stadium on crutches and did not even return to training until late October. And despite United spending more than £150m ($189m) on new signings, including Mason Mount, Andre Onana and Rasmus Hojlund plus a raft of loan arrivals, they got off to a horrendous start, losing nine of their first 18 matches in all competitions.

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Their abject midfield was a huge factor in their miserable results, with Casemiro looking off the pace, Sofyan Amrabat struggling to adapt to his new surroundings and Christian Eriksen not having the legs to last more than 45 minutes.

Fit-again Mainoo was, however, a surprise inclusion for a potentially tricky match at Everton in late November, and he was a revelation in his first-ever Premier League start. Indeed, he was so impressive that Gary Neville remarked he looked more like a Manchester City player than a United player.

Growing in importance

Since returning to full fitness, Mainoo has been involved in 19 of United’s last 22 matches, and there has been a significant improvement in results. Ten Hag’s side have won 10 out of 16 games in which Mainoo has played more than 45 minutes, only losing to Newcastle, West Ham, Fulham and City while drawing with Tottenham and Liverpool.

He played no part in the humiliating 3-0 thrashing by Bournemouth and was taken off at half-time against Nottingham Forest, with it being little coincidence that United ended up losing 2-1. Mainoo has started every match since the turn of the year with the exception of the FA Cup tie at Nottingham Forest, helping United win eight out of 11 matches in all competitions.

He scored his first goal for the senior team with a thumping strike against Newport County and followed it up with an incredible run and curling finish against Wolves in the 97th minute, snatching back two valuable points. He dominated the midfield against West Ham three days later, forming part of an already iconic photograph with Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Hojlund.

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He helped United come through a tricky test against Aston Villa in what was a potentially make-or-break match for the club’s top-four ambitions. It was his clever footwork in a tight space around the area which allowed Diogo Dalot to pick out Scott McTominay to head in the winning goal.

Maturity amid chaos

He was exceptional again in a tricky encounter at Luton Town. With Casemiro and Harry Maguire getting tied up in knots while Bruno Fernandes played at 100mph, Mainoo held the fort practically by himself, offering control with his quick footwork and his intelligent passing, as well as cutting out the hosts’ most dangerous balls.

He was a big factor in Erik ten Hag’s side eventually scraping a 2-1 win, and former England striker Ian Wright was thoroughly impressed, leading calls for him to be called into the Three Lions’ squad. “Kobbie Mainoo has to be in the next England squad,” Wright wrote on X. “Such maturity in chaotic conditions that we’ve not seen from a England player in a long time. Impressed every time I watch him.”

Sunday’s match with Liverpool was the game where everyone sat up and took notice, however. Mainoo was missing his usual partner Casemiro, but if anything he looked more confident without the Brazilian by his side and took more responsibility in attack, gliding past opponents with ease while skilfully controlling the ball under huge pressure.

Henderson’s career has gone backwards

Mainoo’s effervescent form is in total contrast to the players he is competing with for a place in the England team. Jordan Henderson’ career has nosedived ever since his ill-advised move to Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia, which attracted huge criticism back home given his previous support for the LGBTQ+ movement. The transfer was also a disaster on an individual level, as Al-Ettifaq won just six out of their 19 games with Henderson.

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The former Liverpool captain sought an early exit to join Ajax, and his arrival has coincided with a downturn in the Dutch giants’ results. Ajax had won seven out of nine games in December and January, but since the former Liverpool captain joined, they have won just one out of the nine matches in which he has played.

Henderson has an extra 15 years experience than Mainoo, but on current form, the United teenager has the edge.

Joining an embarrassment of riches

Seeing how Mainoo has managed to stabilise a previously dysfunctional United side, imagine how well he could do in an England squad that is packed with world-class talent, above all in midfield.

Declan Rice is leading Arsenal’s title charge and looks like the complete midfielder, while Bellingham has managed to exceed all expectations since moving to Real Madrid, quickly becoming an idol for the famously hard-to-please Madridistas.

Phil Foden has managed to become an even better player for Manchester City since shifting from a wide forward to a more central role, while Trent Alexander-Arnold is now seen as a central player by England, as evidenced by him being named in the squad as a midfielder rather than a right-back in recent times.

Alexander-Arnold is still out injured, however, as is his Liverpool tea-mate Curtis Jones, giving Mainoo a wonderful opportunity to rival Conor Gallagher and Henderson for a place in the team against Brazil or Belgium. And if he can perform in an England shirt as he has done recently for United, there is no reason why he could not be starting for the Three Lions in their Euro 2024 opener against Serbia on June 16.

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