In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Mason Greenwood reveals why he thinks he has become a better player and a better person this season. Watch Manchester United vs Fulham live on Sky Sports from 5pm on Tuesday; kick-off 6pm
Tuesday 18 May 2021 17:30, UK
"For most of last season I don’t think my link-up play was as good," Mason Greenwood tells Sky Sports. "But I was banging in the goals so people got it in their head that I was doing better last season than this. I don’t agree. I think I have been better this season."
Eight goals in his last 12 appearances for Manchester United have changed perceptions. With six of them coming in the Premier League, no player in the competition has scored more times since the start of April. "The goals have started flowing," says Greenwood.
In this rare interview, the teenager details the ways in which his game has improved and the reasons for it. He reveals the difficulties he faced after his indiscretion on England duty saw him lose his place in the squad and opens up on his hopes for the future.
There is humility but there is confidence. There is a desire to improve but a belief in his own abilities. "I always knew my time would come," he says without a hint of bombast.
The sight of Greenwood gliding around the pitch leaves nobody in doubt. His ball striking with both feet is unusual. He needed only a smidgen of space on his left to beat Emiliano Martinez at his near post, but little more on his right to beat Kasper Schmeichel at the far.
He insists he is getting quicker. "I have still got a few years to reach my full level of speed." He is becoming stronger too. "I am still growing, still filling out. I am only 19." The result is that his game is changing.
The drop of the shoulder that so deceived Tyrone Mings, buying him the time to shoot low into the corner for that goal against Aston Villa was there from the outset. This is a man who had no fewer than seven shots on his full debut in the Premier League against Cardiff.
But what is new is the knowledge that he would have the physicality to hold off the bigger man when receiving the ball to feet on the edge of the penalty box. "I have not really been working specifically on that but it has started to come this season," he says.
That growing maturity means taking care of the ball that bit better than before, being able to take on marking responsibilities more easily. Things coaches appreciate. "My all-round play, my defensive work. Just being a player, basically. That is coming through now."
He can play with his back to goal more.
"My hold-up play has improved. I don't think I give the ball away as much as I used to do when I was younger and just coming into the team. I know the game a bit more and the pace of the Premier League a bit more. It has all come together."
Greenwood's focus is on the fact he has "been working hard behind the scenes" and the physical growth that has facilitated this improvement but he acknowledges there is a mental side to this too. The difficult second season did not start as he would have liked.
It should have been the happiest time of his life, making his England debut in September aged just 18. But the experience was tainted when he was withdrawn from the squad soon after for breaking coronavirus quarantine guidelines in Iceland alongside Phil Foden.
For the first time in his short career, there were negative headlines.
"It was difficult," says Greenwood.
"You know how it is, it was obviously going to come. It was a mental challenge but you have to block it all out really. If you play for United, one of the biggest clubs in the world, you have to overcome that. I have pushed that to one side just to concentrate on my football.
"I have overcome it now.
"I am happy to be back playing my best football."
“It has been down to his own quality, work rate, focus, determination and desire to get better. He is a young boy learning all the time. Last season, he was outstanding for a first season. This season, he started off with a few struggles. In the long run, that will stand him in good stead. He has got himself through it. He has really worked his socks off to find his form. Towards the end of the season, he is really looking sharp and really good. And he is as good as he has always been in front of goal.”
Speaking to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about the episode, he is convinced Greenwood has been able to turn the negative into a positive. "He had a few struggles," Solskjaer tells Sky Sports. "In the long run, that will stand him in good stead. He has got himself through it."
That is how Greenwood is now looking at it too.
"I totally agree with him, I have come through it stronger," he adds.
"All of these little things make you into a better person, a better human being and a better footballer. It makes you learn a few things. It is like when you are playing, you learn from your mistakes. You either let it affect you or you push forward. Why not push forward?"
He is doing so - with Solskjaer's help.
"The manager has been fully focused on me and he has helped me a lot. He speaks to all the lads a lot, individually and as a group. I am really pleased to have him there."
Soon, he will have the supporters back too.
Playing games during lockdown has been strange for everyone, but perhaps it is strangest for those starting out. Twelve of Greenwood's 17 Premier League goals have been scored without United supporters inside the stadium. That changes against Fulham on Tuesday when 10,000 home fans will take their seats inside Old Trafford.
"I think everyone is missing the fans, they are a big part of this football club. Without the fans, it is not really a football club at all. It will be nice to have them back a little bit towards the end of the season and obviously next season it can feel like Old Trafford again."
Long before that, there are matters unfinished. Not only the two remaining Premier League fixtures but the Europa League final against Villarreal in Gdansk. It is the opportunity for Greenwood to win his first major trophy with the club, United's first for four years.
"To win something with United would be amazing," he says.
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"I want to do that. We are in a good position to do it. A good finish to the Premier League season and a win in the final would be nice. We need a bit of silverware, we have not had any for a few years, so to bring it back home would be a good feeling."
And an England recall just in time for the Euros?
"It would be nice to go to the Euros but I just want to be fully focused on United for these two games and the Europa League final.
"What happens, happens. I have not really been thinking about it too much. I have just been going out there thinking about my performances for United, how to score and help the team score.
"I have just been focusing on my football."