‘If you’re young and talented’ author Haruki Murakami once wrote, ‘it’s like you have wings.’ I pondered this one cold night in February at a near empty Old Trafford. We were there to watch the Under 18 team play Everton in the FA Youth Cup, just two nights after the first team had concluded a miserable 1-1 draw away to Burnley. Youth was very much on the minds of everyone present, for it was only four days after the anniversary of the Munich Air disaster, and the players laid commemorative wreaths while we all spared a thought for the Busby Babes so tragically lost that awful day. Gone, but never forgotten.
So it was a night filled with poignancy and reflection, a night to celebrate youth both present and gone. And on this night, of all nights, one young man, one young and talented man, would light up the whole stadium, rekindle the connection with those Busby Babes, and fly right by me as though he had wings. I witnessed the future of Manchester United, and his name was Alejandro Garnacho.
We’ve all heard so much of late about the famous ‘Manchester United DNA’. What exactly is it, people always seem to ask? Well, it can be defined quite succinctly with just two words; youthful attack. As 60’s journalist and United fan Geoffrey Green once wrote, “defence is negative. Attack, as we saw it, perfectly executed, is life.” Ever since the great Sir Matt Busby revolutionised the club, bringing together that incredible group of young players that would go on to forever be known as ‘The Babes’, youth has played an integral part at United. Perhaps just as famous, certainly to the seventeen-year-old Garnacho and his young teammates, were the lauded Class of ’92, a team which included Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil. Together they laid the foundations for ten years of United dominance, leaving their imprint on the club like few before them.
Alejandro Garnacho brought those ghosts to life with an incredible goal that, right when I needed it most, made me believe all things may just be possible once again. It was an attack, perfectly executed, that sanctified all that was great about life.
Chasing a clearance from his own penalty box, Garnacho busts a gut to reach the ball down the left flank, beating an oncoming Everton defender to it just int time. Still in his own half, he kicks the ball forward into the Everton, putting himself in a one-on-one foot race with the Everton defender. Right in front of me on the by-line, Garnacho wins the race and knocks the ball forward again, springing towards his opponent’s penalty area. By now, the Everton defender is flagging and has fall away. one more deft touch and Garnacho is in the Toffees box. Five defenders and the goalkeeper are closing in on him. With a few more, tighter, deftly controlled touches, he positions himself where he wants to be. Then, almost impudently, he flicks it to the goalkeepers right, sitting him down in the process, as the ball hits the back of the net. It is a beautiful, joyful, incredible goal, and if you haven’t seen it you really should take a look.
Out of nowhere, he created magic. He’s made it all happen on his own. It’s a goal of energy, passion, determination, toughness, desire and, to finish it off at the end, artistic brilliance. It’s a goal that sums up everything Manchester United should be.
As though proving he was no one trick pony, Garnacho would go on to score two goals in the next round, handing his team a 2-1 victory over Leicester City. One of them was a sublime free kick from over 20 yards out, precision tooled to find its mark, as though guided by invisible beams. Another follows in the semi finals against Wolves, a brilliant curl lashed into the top right corner that gives the keeper no chance. For good measure, he adds a brace in the final, seeing off Nottingham Forest to win his team the trophy. In short, he has made the competition his own, and he has made it look incredibly easy. It is surely time for him now to take the step up to the first team.
There is talk now that Juventus want to take him to Italy. United have to prevent this at all costs. If we are what we say we are, a team that wants to attack and have youth at its very core, then we need to keep him at Old Trafford. Not just to play, but as a statement of intent. To let such an amazing young player leave now would be to send all the wrong signals about who we want to become. We have unearthed a diamond, here. we would be stupid to throw him back into the mud. Garnacho was born in Spain but plays for the Argentine youth team. Truly, the mouth waters to think of him playing in an Argentina side. To think of him working and learning alongside one Lionel Messi. His future seems written, all things possible as he considers his next step towards greatness.
It is imperative that Manchester United ensure he takes that step with them.