Manchester United may be able to ignore Gary Neville’s worries about Kobbie Mainoo after the former England international suggested the teenage sensation “looks like a Manchester City player.” Neville also previously tipped City to pursue Wilfried Gnonto, but the Leeds striker may now be heading to Serie A in a cut-price deal. And if the ex-Red Devils defender was wrong about Gnonto, he could also be wrong about Mainoo.
Mainoo, who is still only 18 years old, progressed through the United academy and helped the team win the FA Youth Cup in 2022. He was handed his first-team debut last season as the Red Devils defeated Charlton 3-0 in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals in January and has gone on to make 10 appearances under Erik ten Hag.
Mainoo missed the start of this season with an ankle injury but returned to the fold at the end of November when he starred in a 3-0 victory over Everton. And during that encounter, Neville told Sky Sports: “The biggest compliment I can pay him – and it hurts to say this – I hope people can take this in the right spirit, he looked like a Manchester City player.
“Honestly, I was watching him and thinking that’s a player that Pep Guardiola will be looking at and thinking, ‘I want him in my midfield, that’s what my midfield players do.’ He’s gone in here at Goodison Park, in what could have been the most ferocious atmospheres for many a year in a hostile environment, and he looked class. We know he’s class, we know he’s got class, he’s got that ability, but he looked class in that environment.”
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Neville’s comments will have worried United fans, who will be desperate for the club to keep hold of the youngster. But the 48-year-old made similar comments about Gnonto last season when he was plying his trade in the Premier League.
Following Leeds’ 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa in January, Neville explained: “He’s such a lively player. For a teenager, he really knows the position. He’s hanging on the shoulder of [Ashley] Young and hogging that touch line. He’s really difficult to play against. It’s the first time I’ve seen him live and I’ve been really impressed. He looks very much like a Manchester City player. Leeds fans won’t thank me for saying that, I know. But he’s so intelligent on the ball.”
Gnonto has since fallen down the pecking order at Elland Road and has started just six matches in the Championship this campaign following his side’s relegation. According to Italian outlet Il Romanista, the 20-year-old is being monitored by Lazio, Fiorentina and Inter Milan and could be sold for as little as £8.7million. And any talk of a move to the Etihad Stadium has evaporated.
So United fans may now be willing to ignore Neville’s comments about Mainoo and instead breathe a sigh of relief that the player is more likely to stay where he is.