Alejandro Garnacho’s mentality is his stand-out quality – Man United News And Transfer News

Alejandro Garnacho’s mentality is his stand-out quality – Man United News And Transfer News

Nick Cox, the director of Manchester United’s academy has revealed Alejandro Garnacho’s mentality is his most important attribute, as the Argentine continues to go from strength to strength in Erik ten Hag’s side.

United laboured to an unflattering 2-0 win against Everton on Saturday to keep their hopes of Champions League qualification next season alive. Both goals came from the penalty spot; both spot kicks were awarded because of Everton’s inability to deal with Garnacho’s direct and tricky dribbling.

While neither of these goals will be registered as assists for the Argentine, in a game as devoid of quality as Saturday’s, they may as well have been given how crucial they were.

The xG (expected goals) finished ‘United (2.56) – 2-0 – Everton (1.48)‘. Given a penalty accounts for an xG of 0.76, 1.52 of United’s total stemmed directly from Garnacho’s trickery. Without this, Everton would have finished the match with a much better rate of creativity in front of goal than United, despite their inability to capitalise upon it; and United may not have secured all three points.

It’s not the first time this season Garnacho’s efforts have proved decisive to an important win.

Back on Boxing Day, the 19-year-old scored twice as United recovered from going two goals down to produce a pulsating comeback 3-2 win against Aston Villa at Old Trafford. Given Ten Hag’s side are currently eight points behind fourth-place Villa in the race for Champions League qualification, this victory was crucial in keeping United’s hopes alive, however unlikely.

It was a similar story last season, where Garnacho delivered a vital three points through a last-minute winner against Fulham at Craven Cottage – a goal which drew immediate comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous effort on the same ground fifteen years previously.

Some players are blessed with an innate ‘clutch-ness’ – the ability to produce decisive contributions at decisive moments. Ronaldo is certainly the archetypal example of this and Garnacho, who idolises the Portuguese superstar, appears capable of emulating that side of his game.

“Alejandro always backed himself on the pitch, he had an unbelievable self-belief,” Cox reveals. “He is a showman sometimes who plays to the crowd, in a positive sense. He has a desire to entertain. In the (2022) Youth Cup run, the bigger the game, the bigger the crowd, the better he was.”

Garnacho was talismanic in United’s successful FA Youth Cup campaign, scoring in every match of the tournament, bar the fourth round tie against Reading.

A double in the quarter-final helped United come from a goal down to beat Leicester. He then scored against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semi-final, after independently travelling to Molineux to study Wolves’ full-backs with his dad. This familial combination would often examine opposition defences together, highlighting where the winger’s obsessive nature is learned from.

In the final, Garnacho again scored twice as the game came to an end, helping United to defeat Nottingham Forest 3-1 and win the trophy for the 11th time.  Justin Cochrane, United’s Head of Player development at the time, revealed the winger had audaciously predicted he would score two in the match the night before; and so he did.

When confidence is paired with careful preparation, a special talent can quickly be developed.

Too often in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson malaise which has engulfed Old Trafford over the past decade, United players have shied away from responsibility, or cowed under the pressure to perform. In a recent interview, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer revealed players rejected the chance to wear the captain’s armband in certain games during his tenure as manager.

While Garnacho will not be a candidate for captaincy any time soon, his attitude if offered the opportunity would undoubtedly be a receptive one.

Mike Phelan, twice an assistant manager with United, believes the 19-year-old “stands for everything” that the club is about. “He’s individual, young, energetic, aggressive. He’s an intelligent player who understands his role in the team, takes risks and gets bums off seats,” Phelan reveals. “He’s going to make mistakes, young players do, but he’s got an edge, a skill factor. If he continues to learn and take on information and grow quickly as a player, he’s got a great future.”

It appears the future may already have arrived, however.

Garnacho has been a permanent fixture Ten Hag’s team for the majority of this season, effectively displacing the floundering Antony on the right-wing. He has scored seven goals, and provided a further three assists (as well as the two penalties against Everton), making thirty-seven appearances in total.

It speaks to Garnacho’s confidence and belief in himself that his levels have remained high amidst a sea of underperformance by his teammates this season. If the Argentine’s fellow left-winger – Marcus Rashford – possessed a fraction of this inner resilience, United would likely be enjoying a far better season than the one they have.

Speaking after the win against Everton on Saturday, Ten Hag was effusive in his praise of the 19-year-old.

“I love to work with him. He’s a player who likes a challenge, he’s very brave, very confident,” the Dutchman revealed, before quickly referencing the “focus” Garnacho needed to continue his development. “Sometimes for young players it’s difficult, sometimes they are inexperienced, the coaching staff have a job to do. He is able to when he keeps this focus, this attitude, he will improve from game to game, that is what we see in this moment.”

And an interesting insight from The Athletic illustrates exactly why Ten Hag is so fond of his Argentinian protégé.

On February 1st, Garnacho helped United to beat Wolves in the Premier League. Three days later, he played a key role in putting West Ham to the sword 3-0, contributing two goals and the indelible photo perched on the Old Trafford stand alongside Kobbie Mainoo and Rasmus Hojlund.

The next day, the United squad were given the day off to rest, following two intense matches back-to-back. Rather than spending the day at home, however, Garnacho drove into Carrington – United’s training ground – to train alone.

This is exactly the mentality and dedication to improvement Ten Hag has been seeking (unsuccessfully at times) to instil in his squad; and it’s the type of behaviour which suggests the footballing world is Garnacho’s oyster. There’s no truer adage than hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. But what happens when talent does work hard?

The 19-year-old need look no further than his idol and former teammate – Ronaldo – to see the path than can be forged when world-class talent is buttressed by a world-class work-ethic.

But it has not been plain sailing for Garnacho since he arrived at Old Trafford. Cox reveals his first year in Manchester was not a particularly impressive one, following his move from Atletico Madrid.

“He was a slow burner in his first year, he wasn’t ripping trees up,” says Cox. “He made his debut for the youth team at Man City when he came on as a sub and found it all a little bit quick.”

But somewhere around the six month mark in his Old Trafford career, a light switched and Garnacho began to get into his stride. Garnacho signed his first professional contract shortly after, with the successful Youth Cup campaign and the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award following at the end of that season.

Within 18 months of receiving this honour, Garnacho earned another contract, after impressing Ten Hag and his coaching staff in his time with the senior squad – a five year deal with a considerable wage increase.

There are few footballers who would have been able to traverse the difficulties of relocating from sunny Spain to miserable Manchester, during the Covid-19 pandemic, at just sixteen years of age, and then thrive in the rigours of English football, in the manner that Garnacho has done.

And it’s for precisely this reason why, despite his silky skills and fantastic finishing, the 19-year-old’s most important attribute lies between his ears.

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