Greenwood could be new Rooney… but talent pool means he will NOT have weight on England’s hopes on his shoulders


MANY of you will have winced when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer compared Mason Greenwood favourably with a young Wayne Rooney.

Here we go again, a talented English kid scores a couple of bangers and is over-hyped to the skies.

Cool your boots, don’t over-burden him, you’ll build him up to knock him down and yada yada yada.

Yet unlike Rooney, Manchester United’s new sensation will not have to carry the weight of the nation’s hopes.

He is part of a generation of technically gifted, versatile, intelligent young English footballers who have benefitted from a revolution in youth coaching over the past decade.

Greenwood — with eight Premier League goals this season, the same as Liverpool’s title-winning centre-forward Roberto Firmino — is a sublime prospect and Solskjaer certainly isn’t shy of telling us.

A kid capable of playing anywhere in the front three, of taking set-pieces with both feet, who scored from range with left and right in Saturday’s 5-2 gubbing of Bournemouth.

Yet there is no need to go all “new Pele” on Greenwood, not when he is far from the only English youngster to excel since football has restarted.

Another 18-year-old, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, is adaptable enough to play in any wide area on the pitch.

Having established himself at left-back, Saka moved forward and netted his first Premier League goal with a glorious swing of the boot in the 2-0 win at Wolves.

Gareth Southgate will look to include Saka in his next squad, to face Iceland and Denmark in the Nations League in September, and persuade him to pick England over Nigeria.

Phil Foden, who has just turned 20, has finally made a significant breakthrough at Manchester City.

He had only ever scored once in the Premier League before lockdown, but has netted four times since, including an emphatic finish with his weaker right foot in the 4-0 thumping of Liverpool.

Greenwood, Saka and Foden would not have made the Euro 2020 squad had it been on now, yet all three look likely to make it next summer.

Mason Mount, at the grand old age of 21, was man of the match as Chelsea defeated Watford 3-0 on Saturday, 20-year-old Jadon Sancho has been tearing it up as an Englishman abroad at Borussia Dortmund, while few have been more influential in Liverpool’s title charge than Trent Alexander-Arnold, 21.

Take a look at the graphic below — how about that for a young England starting XI? It would be a positive, fluid, vibrant team who wouldn’t do badly in the Euros.

Of course, that will not be Southgate’s line-up next June, as the England boss still has veterans like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Ben Chilwell, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford to fit in, as well as the ancient 30-year-old Jordan Henderson.

We haven’t even mentioned last season’s next big thing, Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, 19.

Southgate is also keen on Tottenham’s Japhet Tanganga, 21, who can play anywhere across the back four and has been good enough to persuade even Jose Mourinho to take a punt on youth. Again, it’s that versatility which strikes you with so many emerging English players.

It is no coincidence that they have been brought up playing small-sided games, coached more expertly than those of previous generations.

This is not to say England’s 55-year wait for glory will necessarily come to an end next summer.

In central defence, defensive midfield and in goal, England do not yet possess world-class talent.

The tombstoning of John Stones’ career is a major blow to Southgate, who will hope keeper Dean Henderson can establish himself as Manchester United’s No 1 next season and that Declan Rice can impress at a top-six club, perhaps Chelsea.

But after Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup triumphs, this is a rare crop of talent — more comfortable on the ball than their English forebears.

While the inclination is to decry a Premier League in which fewer than a third of players are England- qualified — these boys have thrived on extreme levels of competition.

If the term had not been unofficially banned we might even call them a “golden generation”.

Unlike the previous lot saddled with that description, they can flourish under Southgate, a manager who has known them from a young age and will not — like Sven-Goran Eriksson — over-indulge any egos.

Greenwood will be in Southgate’s squad soon and there will be plenty of excitement about that. Why not? He’s a wonderful footballer and football is entertainment.

But we won’t need to inflate this kid with hot air. Not when he is one of so many.


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