At eighteen years old, Alejandro Garnacho will not be the youngest player ever to take part in an FA Cup final should he take to the pitch tomorrow, that honour goes to Milwall’s Curtis Weston, who was 17 years old.
If Garnacho were to score tomorrow, he would also not be the youngest to do so, as he will be 18 years and 337 days old; United’s own Norman Whiteside holds that honour at 18 years and 18 days old.
Nonetheless, the Argentinian’s rise to stardom this season has been nothing short of epic and it would be a surprise were he not to feature, given the impact he has had when he has played for Erik ten Hag’s United side this season.
The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell notes that incredibly, in the Premier League this term, Garnacho has the best minutes per goal or assist record of the entire United side.
His talent is there for all to see, but what gives the young star the aura of future stardom is his fearlessness. He seems to relish a challenge and will be champing at the bit to get his chance to shine tomorrow.
“Nobody at United thinks he will be overawed when he is inevitably called upon at Wembley in arguably the most significant Manchester derby in history,” Whitwell notes.
“A source close to United … explains: ‘… he wants the attention, and you need that kind of mentality to thrive at United. He’s not daunted by any occasion. Other players have signed and shrunk under the scale of the club.”
Having been excluded from some pre-season and early season games by Ten Hag for having a less than stellar attitude, Garnacho responded admirably, knuckling down to hard graft on the training pitch and elevating his mental game to match the levels of his physical skill.
Even when he suffered his first serious career injury in March, Whitwell reports that “Physios were delighted with his application.
“Garnacho worked as hard as possible to return, heading into Carrington on days off, completing monotonous hill walks at the back of the training ground, and committing to gym work — which pleasantly surprised coaches.”
Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has left the club, the number 7 shirt is up for grabs but it will take a player with incredible self-belief to take on something that has become a poisoned chalice. It would be no surprise to anyone if young Garnacho, whose current number 49 was chosen because it is 7 squared, has the chutzpah to do it.
He will certainly have the backing and encouragement of his family. Whitwell notes:
“In May, [brother] Roberto posted an image on Twitter of Garnacho kneeling at the feet of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was sat on the throne from Game of Thrones, and wearing United’s No 7 shirt, holding his current No 49 in his hand. “I’ve got a dream,” Roberto wrote.”
A goal or assist tomorrow afternoon would go a long way to making that throne the Argentinian’s own.