Will Kobbie prove he can be the Mainoo man this summer?

2 min read

With this summer’s European Championship just under three months away from starting, Gareth Southgate’s focus is now solely on deciding which players will represent the Three Lions in Germany. 

The England boss has to name his final 23-man squad by June 8th, meaning the upcoming two friendly internationals against Brazil and Belgium on Saturday and Tuesday respectively – both at Wembley – will be crucial for the chances of those hoping to make the plane. 

With a star-studded list of top-level players all available, England’s chances of winning this summer’s tournament have never been stronger. Going forward, the likes of Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham will undoubtedly be the most fearsome present in Germany, while the Three Lions’ current quality in depth is arguably the best in world football. 

Defensively, John Stones and Harry Maguire have never let England down at major tournaments, while Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell or Kieran Trippier – whoever gets the nod at left-back – are as good, if not better, than anyone. Jordan Pickford has also been a reliable presence in the England goal throughout recent history and little needs to be said about Declan Rice’s quality as the linchpin in Southgate’s midfield. A better suitor for that particular role is almost impossible to think of. 

One area that is a slight cause for concern and a topic that has dominated the sports pages of literally any publication in the run up to Euro 2024 is who will partner Arsenal’s midfield maestro this summer. With Bellingham now flourishing in a more advanced role for Madrid this season, it is inconceivable to even think about restricting him to a deeper role in Germany. Kalvin Phillips’ form has unfortunately regressed since joining West Ham on loan in January and as such his place at this summer’s tournament is in major jeopardy, but for a late surge in performance from now until the end of the campaign.

Jordan Henderson was left with egg on his face following a mega-money move to Saudi Arabia last summer and has since been integrated back into the world of normal football after joining Ajax at the start of the year, and that move will most likely be enough for him to retain his place in the squad for another major tournament outing this time around. Few would view having Henderson’s experience and know-how present around the England camp as a negative factor in the summer, although you would be hard pressed to find many rallying for the former Liverpool man to be a starter next to Rice in the heart of midfield. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold has often been deployed in a more auxiliary midfield role during England’s recent qualifiers and performed well, but the level of opposition the national team have faced in those matches leaves a lot to be desired when considering the 25-year-old’s ability to operate there effectively against the very best in the business when the stakes are at their highest. Not to mention he is currently injured and is not due back for the Reds until mid-April, leaving little time to get appropriately up to speed.

The resolution, then, looks to lie elsewhere for Southgate, and it could well come in the form of an 18-year-old. 

Kobbie Mainoo has had chins wagging since breaking into Manchester United’s starting XI back in January. The Red Devils academy graduate’s performances in the Premier League and FA Cup have been reminiscent of a player at least ten years his senior, and he was once again among the standout performers as United edged past Liverpool in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday – a display which has led to a late inclusion into Gareth Southgate 25-man squad for this week’s friendlies. 

Mainoo may only be 18 but his maturity is that of a much more experienced professional. His ball-carrying ability would be the perfect fit for this young, progressive England side and the way in which he holds his position defensively throughout games is second to none. He is coolness personified when receiving the ball out from the back and never shy of taking the ball under pressured circumstances; operating alongside a player like Declan Rice, there is nothing to say that Mainoo cannot be a starter for England at this summer’s European Championship. 

Mainoo has already proven he is adept at handling big-game situations and has been integral for United’s push for a top-five finish and FA Cup run since forcing his way into the first team in December, featuring regularly in central midfield and contributing two goals across both competitions. 

Having not yet made a single appearance for England U21’s, the skepticism around Mainoo’s ability to successfully compete in arguably the most demanding role on the biggest stage is understandable, but put simply Gareth Southgate has few other options in this department and it is without question the Three Lions’ Achilles heel. 

In Mainoo, though, we could just have the perfect course of treatment. There is no reward without risk and while Southgate has typically been adverse to such flippancy in the past, it has respectfully gotten us nowhere, aside from the odd pleasant short-lived memory. 

As the old saying goes: if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Mainoo may not yet be the answer to a question which will drag on for the remaining months ahead, but he has certainly earned an opportunity to prove he has the potential to be the missing piece to the jigsaw in Germany.

England’s upcoming friendlies

Saturday 23rd March – England vs Brazil (Wembley, 7pm)

Tuesday 26th Match – England vs Belgium (Wembley, 7.45pm)

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