Kobbie Mainoo: ‘When I try to go to the corner shop I get a bit more attention these days’

Kobbie Mainoo conducts a conversation like he addresses the ball in Manchester United’s midfield: with a cool maturity that has been the calling card of a breakthrough season that may end in FA Cup glory and a place on England’s Euro 2024-bound plane.

After making his debut at 17 in a Carabao Cup quarter-final against Charlton in January 2023, Mainoo played twice more for a season’s total of 87 minutes before, inked in for a starting berth by Erik ten Hag this term, he went down in a summer friendly at Houston’s NRG Stadium when Real Madrid’s Rodrygo fell on him and caused an ankle injury that required surgery.

Heartache for the boy from Stockport was followed by a long rehabilitation that ended when he started November’s 3-0 win at Everton and sparkled. His rocketing trajectory since has featured a late winner at Wolves in February, his England bow versus Brazil the following month, the man-of-the-match award in a first international start three days later, against Belgium, and a sublime goal in United’s 2-2 draw in April against their fiercest rivals, Liverpool, before a delirious Stretford End at Old Trafford.

In his serene manner, Mainoo discusses this Roy of the Rovers rise. “It’s been a season of ups and downs but to end it with a final is still a dream come true as a boyhood fan of the club,” he says. “Obviously I got the injury but it’s happened so quickly. On the pitch a lot has changed. A lot more people know my name now. But at home, with the family I have around me, they very much keep me grounded and nothing changes, though when I try to go to the corner shop I get a bit more attention.

“It [the injury] was a tough one to take and took me a few days but once I’d got my head round it, it was just about focusing on getting fit. I knew there was nothing I could do about it, I couldn’t go back and change it so it was just about focusing on my recovery. I have a good family that was supporting and helping me after surgery so I was just focused on getting fit and back in the manager’s mind.

“Back then I wasn’t thinking about England; it was about being back in the [United] squad really, not even the starting XI. So to be here I wouldn’t even have dreamed it.”

Kobbie Mainoo curls in his brilliant goal against Liverpool during the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in early April. Photograph: Ash Donelon/Manchester United/Getty Images

Saturday’s Wembley date with Manchester City offers United a chance of redemption after their lowest Premier League finish of eighth. Beating the champions would be a particular thrill for Mainoo, given his Stockport roots.

He says: “Growing up everyone around me was a City fan – there were only a few of us who had to fight as United fans. To play in a derby as an FA Cup final is a dream come true.”

In the league, United lost twice to Pep Guardiola’s generational side, 3-0 and 3-1, but Mainoo points to the 3-2 victory over Newcastle and the 2-0 win at Brighton that closed the campaign.

“The last couple of games we have had some good results and we have to take that into the game. We have a good team spirit, players who can lead the team and can bring real energy.”

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While recovering from the ankle problem Mainoo learned a language. “I started Spanish lessons on Zoom just to pass the time a bit. It’s tough to keep doing them now with the schedule being so busy but now it’s into summer I’ll try to pick it up again because I enjoyed it.”

June and July could still be demanding if, as expected, Mainoo is retained for the final squad for the Euros in Germany when Gareth Southgate prunes the initial 33 players chosen on Tuesday. “I got a text to say I was in the provisional squad and then saw it come out [officially] so I was buzzing,” Mainoo says. “I’m not trying to think about it too much because we’ve got the final so all my focus is on the club right now. But obviously I’m going to the pre-camp and if I get selected for the Euros it will be amazing.”

An aficionado of the Alchemist, a Los Angeles hip-hop artist who soundtracked Grand Theft Auto V, Mainoo would hear the rapper 50 Cent as his mother drove him to training when a United junior. “That’s what my mum had on her phone so I used to listen to that a lot in the back of the car,” he says.

Mainoo was part of the XI given a runaround by City in the 3-1 loss so is conscious of Saturday’s challenge. He says: “That was very tough. They’re one of the best, if not the best team in the world at the moment – you can’t deny it. But it’s a final and as everyone knows in finals anything can happen. We just have to prepare ourselves the best we can and go and give ourselves a chance to win.”

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