Mason Greenwood provides another reason to believe the hype
The teenager played a starring role for Manchester United on Saturday
While much has changed at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure six years ago, one aspect which has remained the same is the way in which the club attempts to shield its youngsters from the glare of the media.
To this day, it remains club policy that youth players below the age of 18 are not permitted to speak to the press. In doing so, it is hoped that distractions and unwanted attention are kept at a minimum and that they can continue to focus on their own development. Despite such measures, the rise of Mason Greenwood - still just 17 - was impossible for outsiders to ignore long before his starring role on the club's 2019 preseason tour.
Even prior to him signing professional terms at Old Trafford shortly after his birthday last October, his performances for United's academy sides were turning heads. Just 15 at the start of the 2017/18 season, Greenwood finished it as top scorer for the Under 18s. His final act of that campaign was scoring the winning goal for the Under 19s as they beat Real Madrid in the final of the ICGT Cup in the Netherlands.
Despite being the youngest player in United's squad, he was also named player of the tournament. Those performances, coupled with United's depleted post-World Cup squad, convinced Jose Mourinho to select Greenwood for United's preseason tour of North America last summer.
12 months on, Greenwood has continued his ascent. Throughout a turbulent season for United's first team, the young forward has once again scored goals with impressive regularity for the Under 18s and Under 19s - form that persuaded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that the teenager was ready for a handful of first team appearances as the 2018/19 season drew to a close.
Now, only two months on from becoming the youngest United player to start a Premier League game, Greenwood's displays on his second preseason tour have seen him talked up as a possible regular starter for Solskjaer in the season ahead. A well-timed run saw him tap home the opening goal as United defeated Leeds convincingly in Perth last week, but it was his contribution against Inter Milan in Singapore on Saturday which has taken the excitement surrounding the youngster to a higher plane.
Greenwood scored the only goal of the game inside the final quarter of an hour, showing the kind of cool-headed poise those who have watched him regularly have grown used to as he controlled a ball in a crowded area, cut inside on to his left foot and steered his shot beyond Samir Handanović with his instep.
— International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) July 20, 2019
Then, ten minutes later, he offered a glimpse of his impressive quick feet as he pirouetted away from an uncharacteristically leaden-footed Milan Škriniar on halfway, bursting into the space behind the Slovakian.
17 year old Mason Greenwood making a fool of Skriniar...Deluded Interisti have the nerve to say this guy is the best defender in Serie A. pic.twitter.com/p98efS84Zw
— Don Totti (@petrachi_fan) July 20, 2019
These two moments alone were enough to see Greenwood's name soaring high on social media trends the world over.
Pre-season is, of course, a time when football supporters are inclined to get a little carried away at the glimpse of a new signing or promising youngster doing anything of note. With Greenwood, however, the hype is starting to feel justified.
Solskjaer confirmed after the game in Singapore that, despite his tender years, he will not be loaned out this season and will form part of his first team squad.
Claims the United manager intends to implement a more fluid forward line this campaign would compliment Greenwood's searing pace, ability to use either foot and versatility. And with Romelu Lukaku missing the game amidst reports that Inter are readying an improved bid for him, it's difficult to escape the sense that the stars are aligning for Greenwood to be something more than just a squad player.