April 14, 2024

All aboard the Alejandro Garnacho hype train! Man Utd forward has the talent and personality to be one of the best in the world – so what is holding him back?

Alejandro Garnacho

The Argentina forward’s jaw-dropping goal against Everton demonstrated that he has the ability to make it to the very top


“Don’t compare, I don’t think it is right,” pleaded Erik ten Hag when asked whether Alejandro Garnacho, having mimicked Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo with his wonder strike against Everton, could one day be considered in the same category as those two Manchester United greats.


As the manager of a teenager who has never had a problem with self confidence, to put it mildly, perhaps Ten Hag sees it as his job to temper expectations around a player who before Sunday had failed to score in the Premier League or Champions League this season. But after a moment like the one Garnacho produced against Everton, which Sean Dyche hailed as “an absolute worldie”, why not jump aboard the hype train?


The Argentina international has been ripping it up ever since he was with Atletico Madrid’s youth team and has embraced the big stage with United, first leading their Under-18s side to the FA Youth Cup and then making waves with a series of stunning moments last season in Ten Hag’s side.


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His goal at Goodison may have been extraordinary, but it also confirmed what anyone who has followed Garnacho’s progress in the last two years already knew: he is an outstanding talent who can go right to the top…


Alejandro Garnacho Manchester United 2023-2024


Younger than Ronaldo & Rooney

Garnacho’s jaw-dropping goal was instantly compared to Rooney’s bicycle kick against Manchester City and Ronaldo’s acrobatic strike for Real Madrid against Juventus. There were also shades of Gareth Bale’s scissor kick in the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool. It is not bad company to keep and there is a strong argument to make that Garnacho’s was the best of the lot.


He was furthest from goal of those mentioned, and had to deal with Diogo Dalot’s cross heading in the opposite direction. He also sent the ball right into the top corner, beating Jordan Pickford even though the England No.1 had managed to dive across his goal.


Then there is the fact that Garnnacho is only in his second season in the United side and his first full campaign since signing a first-team contract. He only turned 19 in July and has been in and out of the team.


Rooney was 25 and United’s highest-paid player when he scored his legendary goal against City. Ronaldo was 33 and a five-time Ballon d’Or winner when he struck against Juventus, prompting the home fans to give him a standing ovation. Three months later, he signed for the Serie A giants.


Bale and other bicycle kick merchants like Luis Suarez, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were all household names when they conjured their respective moments of magic. That Garnacho has already scored a career-defining goal so early in his career shows the level of his talent, raising the ceiling of what he could go on to achieve even higher.



Give him more opportunities

The teenager’s moment of brilliance showed a different side to his game, which typically involved the forward coming off the bench and running in behind defences when games were already stretched and space had opened up for him to exploit.


Garnacho had not made the most of his two previous starts in the Premier League against Fulham and Luton, while in his first two appearances against Wolves and Tottenham in August, his lack of defensive awareness left United badly exposed. He may have not even started at Goodison had Antony not picked up a knock.


But the fact he scored less than three minutes into a game amid a scorching atmosphere, with Everton fans screaming about injustice following their 10-point deduction from the Premier League, strengthened his case for getting more starts.


With United facing another daunting away game on Wednesday at Galatasaray, they could sure do with another early moment of magic from their teenage star to suck the venom out of the home crowd. Garnacho is clearly a player capable of unbelievable feats, so why not give him as much time as possible on the pitch to see what he can do?


Adnan Januzaj | Manchester United

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Caution after Januzaj & Morrison cases

When a player of Garnacho’s talent comes along, the biggest fear is that his potential will not be realised. United have had their fair share of academy players with the world at their feet and watched them squander their potential.


United insiders say that Ravel Morrison was one of the best players to come through at Carrington, but he did not match his talent with hard work. The midfielder, who is seeing out a disappointing career with D.C. United, hung out with local gangsters and would often not turn up for training. He played just three times for United, never starting.


Adnan Januzaj emerged as a decisive player for David Moyes at the age of 18 but was regarded as being too arrogant to the point he was rude to club staff. He couldn’t build on his early momentum and, 10 years after scoring twice for United at Sunderland, is on the fringes of the Sevilla squad at the age of 28, having played just 42 minutes this season in La Liga.


And there was al lot of concern that Garnacho was getting too big for his boots even before he had established himself in the first team.


Bruno Fernandes Alejandro Garnacho Man Utd 2023-24

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Fernandes’ warning

Garnacho got on the wrong side of Ten Hag by turning up late during the pre-season tour of 2022 and did not make his first Premier League start until November.


“At the beginning of the season, he was not at his best. On the tour, he did not have the best attitude that he should have,” Bruno Fernandes revealed after Garnacho scored his first senior goal at Real Sociedad last year. “That’s why he hasn’t got his chances until now. He’s getting his chances now because he’s training better, he’s got a different attitude and he’s deserving his chances.”


There was also a fear that Garnacho was too keen to impress. When journalists covering United’s training camp in Spain last year showed up to watch a training session, he immediately started showboating. Some thought there was a danger of him choosing style over substance.


Alejandro Garnacho Manchester United 2023-24

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‘Wanted to be the best footballer possible’

But there is an upside to Garnacho’s love for the limelight and his willingness to impress. His desire to become a top-level player means he is utterly dedicated to achieving that goal.


That was evident to Nick Cox, United’s head of academy, when he was trying to convince Garnacho to leave Atletico Madrid and move to Manchester. “You could see, character-wise, he was a young boy that loved the game and was obsessed with football,” Cox told GOAL earlier this year. “He knew that he wanted to be the best footballer he could possibly be and would have gone to any length to do that. He had a hunger to play in the Premier League and he had a real appetite to play for Manchester United.”


By then, Garnacho had scored the winner against Fulham and a screamer against West Ham, as well as setting up a goal for Marcus Rashford against City. But Cox was careful about not getting carried away, stressing the need for the player to add consistency to his flashes of brilliance.


“If he wants to be the best, which I know he does, he has to find a way of making sure that he can do that on a regular basis. He’s got a lot of development ahead of him,” Cox said. “He’s got a positive group of staff here, we will be encouraging him to believe that anything is possible.”


Alejandro Garnacho Man Utd 2023-24

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‘Watching too many Cristiano clips!’

Garnacho sure channeled that belief at Goodison Park. And one year on from giving the teenager a public dressing down, Fernandes was beaming with pride.


“It’s amazing — something out of this world,” said the Portuguese. “Probably he’s watching too many Cristiano clips! We all know that he’s a big fan. Still a long way for him to be like Cristiano but he’s getting his steps. He wants to be something special in the world of football and I think he has the capability to do that, but he has to do more than that goal!”


But still there was another warning from his captain not to stop working: “I have big expectations for him. He is not a great player yet but he has a great future ahead and we expect a lot from him. I am always going to be behind him asking for more but an amazing goal.”

Ten Hag gave a similar call for caution when Garnacho’s name was mentioned in the same breath as Ronaldo and Rooney’s, saying: “For Garnacho to go that way he has a lot to come, he has to work very hard. You have to do it on a consistent basis and so far he has not. He definitely has high potential to do some amazing things, it’s not the first time we saw this, we have already often seen glimpses.


“But if you want to be a player like Rooney or Ronaldo you have to score 20, 25 goals in the Premier League [each season) that’s not easy to get, you have to work hard, you have to go in areas where it hurts. So a lot to come. But potential, he has.”


Alejandro Garnacho Manchester Untied 2023-24

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Already a father and with a large support network

So what is holding Garnacho back? The good news is he appears to be very settled off the pitch. His girlfriend, Eva Garcia, gave birth to their son in October, giving him responsibility and grounding, something Sir Alex Ferguson was always keen for his players to have.


The player has an additional support network as his whole family moved over from Madrid to Manchester with him in 2020, including younger brother Roberto, who incessantly shows his support for his sibling on social media.


Garnacho was initially shy about media duties due to the language barrier, but he spoke to television reporters in English on Sunday. He is far from fluent, but it is a start and an important step to further integration.


Alejandro Garnacho Man Utd 2023-24

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United can’t waste a generational talent

Perhaps the biggest barrier to his development is the chaotic nature of his team. United have repeatedly been disrupted by injuries all season, depriving Ten Hag of a fixed base of players and forcing the Dutchman to improvise with far-from-ideal solutions such as playing Sofyan Amrabat or Victor Lindelof at left-back, or having a 35-year-old Jonny Evans mark Erling Haaland.


The off-field instability caused by the club’s strategic review, which has still not been properly solved more than a year later, has not helped the team either. The sooner Sir Jim Ratcliffe confirms his minority stake in the club and can install his INEOS brains in the room, the better. Because despite all the turmoil that has surrounded United in the last few years, it is becoming ever clearer that they have a generational talent on their hands.


After his outlandish talent was laid bare at Goodison Park, the whole world now knows that Garnacho has the potential to become one of the best players of his generation. It is as much up to United as it is to him to ensure he does.

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