Kobbie Mainoo's footballing talent is now clear to us all. What the 19-year-old has also proved over the course of this season is his elite sense of timing. A nose for the big occasion.

Calling Mainoo's first Premier League goal a 'late winner' doesn't do it justice. Not when it came in the 97th minute, requiring him to weave past three Wolves players before bending the ball into the bottom corner to snatch a 4-3 victory at Molineux.

Mainoo's first senior goal at Old Trafford was pretty special, too. What better way to announce yourself to your home fans than by whipping a finish into the top corner against Liverpool, your great rivals.

And with United desperate for a shock win over noisy neighbours Manchester City to end a tough season on a high, of course it was Mainoo who stepped up to score the winner at Wembley.

Mainoo is no stranger at the national stadium - he'd already been named player of the match on his first start for England in March. Any lingering doubts have been put to rest at Euro 2024.

In a midfield that boasts Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden, it is Mainoo who has taken control for England in Germany. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Conor Gallagher can't even get a look in now.

Still only a teenager, Mainoo has gone from playing U18s football to becoming almost undroppable for club and country in the space of 12 months. No stage, it seems, is too big for the kid from Stockport.

Through interviews with those who watched Mainoo's rise, Sky Sports delves into his past to trace a journey that looks set to end at the top.

Kobbie Mainoo is Next Up.

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"He could just do things that I've not seen kids of that age do"

Steve Vare, Mainoo's coach at Cheadle and Gatley Junior FC

"He was then what he is now. He's mastered the ball - he manipulates it brilliantly"

Nick Cox, Manchester United academy director

"He is 10 times the player I was at 19"

Paul Scholes

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'He just used to glide through games'

Most of us had to wait until Mainoo was in his late teens before witnessing his talent. But Steve Vare - who was Mainoo's first coach at Cheadle and Gatley, just south of Manchester - saw it up close.

"It was apparent from a very early stage that he was an exceptional kid," Vare tells Sky Sports. "It's hard to say when they're so young but you could just tell from the minute he came in."

Mainoo grew up in nearby Cheadle Hulme and joined Cheadle and Gatley when he was just four.

"What struck me was how strong and wiry he was," recalls Vare. "He had a really hard shot on him for such a young kid.

"He was just really powerful - he'd be scoring goals from everywhere. He could just do things that I've not seen kids of that age do."

Picture courtesy of @kobbie

Picture courtesy of @kobbie

Naturally, it quickly became clear to Vare that Mainoo needed special treatment.

"I used to have to do a separate warm up for Kobbie because everything else was just too easy," he explains.

"We used to have to say to him, ‘you can only score with your weaker foot’, ‘you can only have two touches of the ball’, or, ‘you can't score, you have to pass to a team-mate'.

"Never complained. He just loved being challenged."

To anyone who witnessed the dramatic winner against Wolves in February, Mainoo's ability to beat several opponents before calmly producing a finish from the edge of the area in the dying minutes of the game may have raised eyebrows. But Vare had seen something similar over a decade previously.

"He would just dominate and score lots of goals, weaving in and out of players," he says.

"He just used to glide through games."


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'He's a Man Utd fan - it was a natural choice'

By the age of six, Mainoo was ready to branch out, with Vare explaining: "His dad, Felix, and I used to have chats at the end of each session to say 'how can we test him even more?'

"I got to the point of saying to Felix, ‘Kobbie is ready to play for a professional academy’."

That would come in time. But first, Mainoo made the move to Failsworth Dynamos, based north-west of Manchester. Some early adaptation was necessary, recalls Ian Kelly, Mainoo's coach at his new club.

"He was all tricks, skill, taking people on," Kelly told The Athletic earlier this season. "It took him a bit to learn how to play in a team."

Mainoo celebrates winning the 2022 FA Youth Cup with team-mate Rhys Bennett

Mainoo celebrates winning the 2022 FA Youth Cup with team-mate Rhys Bennett

But after a few months, Mainoo was up and running, playing as a forward for Failsworth and continuing to demonstrate the potential he showed at Cheadle and Gatley.

"I knew it wouldn’t faze him - I could tell when he came to us," said Kelly.

Even at the age of six, word of the precocious young talent from Cheadle Hulme had spread around Manchester. It was no surprise that both United and City's attentions were peaked.

Paul Newton, one of Mainoo's coaches at Cheadle and Gatley, also worked for City as a coach and scout for their junior sides and ensured the club were aware of his talent.

Mainoo trained with City's academy - but he'd also been playing with the Man Utd Foundation and was invited to work with their academy by Dermot Clarke, one of United's scouts. Mainoo and his family had a decision to make.

City may have been on the way to winning their first of eight Premier League titles back in 2011, but United had a trump card.

"He's a Man Utd fan," says Vare. "It was probably a natural choice."

Picture courtesy of @kobbie

Picture courtesy of @kobbie

Picture courtesy of @kobbie

Picture courtesy of @kobbie

'As a youngster, he was a centre forward'

Entering the Manchester United academy, a famous factory of talent that produced the Busby Babes and the Class of '92, is no mean feat.

But of the thousands of kids that spend time at a club of United's size, only a handful will possess the talent, drive and fortune to make it as professional footballers. Even fewer still will progress to the United first team.

That alone speaks to Mainoo's technical and mental qualities - all of which were apparent to Nick Cox, United's academy director.

"All of our boys are high-potential but you certainly could see that Kobbie had some attributes that meant we wanted to continue working with him," he tells Sky Sports.

"As time unfolded, it became clear he potentially had the ability to go on and play for our first team.

"On the pitch - even as a little 'un - he was then what he is now. He's mastered the ball - he manipulates it brilliantly.

"You could tell he had athletic potential and now you see a powerful, explosive player.

"As a little kid, we were waiting for that to come, but we could sense it was a matter of time."

Not that Mainoo had been dominating the midfield from an early age. "As a youngster, he was a centre-forward and scored a lot of goals," revealed Cox.

"I've seen him play in all sorts of attacking positions. Around the age of 15, 16, he was more of an attacking midfielder."

Not that United was Mainoo's only focus. He continued to play for Shots, a grassroots club coached by Paul Newton, who previously worked with Mainoo at Cheadle and Gatley.

Kobbie Mainoo may be known all over Europe now but Shots was home to some famous names - Kai Rooney, Jacey Carrick, Ben Aguero, Roman Walker and Tyler and Jack Fletcher have all been through the club.

But Mainoo's ability to make a name for himself was in evidence back in 2017, when he scored the winning goal as Shots claimed the North West Junior Champions League - a competition Newton said he had been trying to win for a decade.


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