Kobbie Mainoo interview: I can’t go to the corner shop without being mobbed

Kobbie Mainoo signs autographs
Kobbie Mainoo (left) is now a man in demand - Getty Images/Matthew Peters

Wembley Stadium, February 26 last year. Shortly after collecting a Carabao Cup winners’ medal that was now hanging proudly around his neck, Erik ten Hag spotted Kobbie Mainoo and sidled up to the young midfielder. Placing an arm around Mainoo’s shoulder, the Manchester United manager pointed at the celebrations unfolding in front of them and encouraged the teenager to soak it all in because soon, he said, it would be him out there lifting silverware. “Your day will come,” Ten Hag told a beaming Mainoo. “We are going to win trophies together – and your day is coming.”

Ten Hag was certainly right about Mainoo. United are back at Wembley on Saturday and Mainoo, 15 months on from being a spectator for that Carabao Cup triumph over Newcastle having not made the matchday squad, will probably be one of the first names on the manager’s team sheet against Manchester City in the FA Cup final.

The team may not have progressed as Ten Hag planned, to the point where the City match could yet turn out to be the embattled Dutchman’s final game in charge of United after a torrid campaign, but Mainoo’s star has risen dramatically.

Wonder goals against Wolves and Liverpool underlined a talent that has not only made him a regular in United’s midfield but is likely to see him go to the Euros with England this summer after being named in Gareth Southgate’s provisional 33-man squad for Germany this week.

Only 19 last month, Mainoo plays with a maturity and composure far beyond his years and it is no different in his first major interview with the national newspapers when he could not look less flustered by all the fuss that now surrounds him.

Kobbie Mainoo training ahead of the FA Cup final
Mainoo training ahead of the FA Cup final - Getty Images/Ash Donelon

So has it been difficult to adapt to the limelight? “I see how it can be but, with the family I have around me, they’re very much keeping me level-headed,” a relaxed and smiling Mainoo explains at United’s Carrington base. “Obviously on the pitch a lot has changed. A lot more people know my name now. But, at home with the family I have around me, they very much keep me grounded and nothing changes at home.”

With one caveat. “When I try to go to the corner shop, I get a bit more attention... ” he says, chuckling. “But, other than that. Obviously people ask for pictures and whatnot. It’s nice. I mean, I grew up here, so to take pictures and stuff is the least I can do. I remember being a kid and wanting pictures with players when I was younger.”

Mainoo was born in Stockport, also home to his new England team-mate and City midfielder Phil Foden, whom he will be hoping to keep quiet at Wembley, but raised in Cheadle Hulme. His parents Felix and Abena – who are Ghanaian immigrants – are separated but he splits his time between their homes, which are within half an hour of each other. Family is everything. Mainoo has two sisters, Ama and Efia, and an older half-brother, Jordan Mainoo-Hames, who appeared on the ITV2 show Love Island and is Felix’s son from another relationship.

Jordan Mainoo-Hames on Love Island
Jordan Mainoo-Hames is Kobbie's half-brother - ITV

They were all at Wembley in March to see Mainoo make his England debut against Brazil, and first start for his country against Belgium three days later, and will be there en masse on Saturday, too. “They come to almost every game,” he says. He does not mind admitting that one or two relatives in Ghana have teased him about choosing to play for England over the Black Stars, though. “Maybe distant family when I’m in Ghana give me a bit for it!” Mainoo jokes. “But, no, they all support me in my decision.”

Kobbie Mainoo comes on for his England debut against Brazil at Wembley
Mainoo comes on for his England debut against Brazil at Wembley - AFP/Glyn Kirk

It is a measure of Mainoo’s humility, and belief that he still has a long way to go, that he opts to park his club-issue BMW or Mercedes A-Class in the academy car park at the front of the training ground rather than round the back where the rest of United’s first-team stars leave their vehicles.

On the pitch, though, there is an arrogance that United fans like to see in their heroes. Take his dramatic 97th-minute winner against Wolves in February, moments after Pedro Neto had made it 3-3 and seemingly denied United victory, when he cut inside past Joao Gomes, nutmegged the advancing Max Kilman and then glided into the penalty area with that regal strut of his before bending a finish low into the corner.

“When I got the ball, I just saw the defender coming out so I just wanted to meg him,” Mainoo says. Did you shout megs? “Nah! I could’ve but no... no! So once I got the meg, I thought it had happened up. Omari [Forson] had made the run so it was just on to get the shot on. So that was a nice first Prem goal.”

Kobbie Mainoo celebrates scoring the winner against Wolves
Mainoo celebrates scoring the winner against Wolves - Getty Images/James Gill

There was a similar nonchalance about his goal against Liverpool last month that drew immediate comparisons with Federico Macheda’s strike against Aston Villa, also in front of Old Trafford’s Stretford End, 15 years earlier. How did he know the shot was on when he had his back to goal? “The goal doesn’t move,” he says. “You know where the goal is, so when the touch went there I knew it was on. There were a lot of players so the keeper couldn’t see a lot. When I saw the comparisons [with Macheda] it was mad to see.”

Asked if he has a preferred role, Mainoo gives a diplomatic response. “Anywhere on the pitch for Man United, I don’t mind,” he says. But he has the traits of a No 6 and No 8 as well as a No 10 and offers some insight as to why. “I always liked time on the ball when I was younger and I played futsal and stuff so it was always one v one,” he explains. “So I always like the ball at my feet and dribbling and stuff so, yeah, I think I got comfortable from doing that and I started to take joy from running at players or shielding the ball from players.”

Plenty of players have buckled under the weight of expectation at Old Trafford but Mainoo admits he loves the pressure that comes with representing the club he has been at since the age of seven. “Yeah, I mean there were times when eyes weren’t on me and all I wanted was for people to see me play football,” Mainoo says. “I used to whisper it, to be playing at Old Trafford, under the lights and now it’s here I can’t complain.”

It seems a long time ago now that Mainoo was being driven into United’s training ground by his mum or dad, the rapper 50 Cent on the car stereo while he played “Mini Bash” in the backseat. He recalls people saying he looked like Danny Welbeck back then because he too had a “high top” hairstyle at the time and remembers Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard coming to talk to him before he signed as a scholar.

Kobbie Mainoo in action for Man Utd in the 2022 FA Youth Cup Final
Mainoo (right) in action for Man Utd in the 2022 FA Youth Cup Final - Getty Images/Alex Livesey

Fast forward to last summer and Mainoo was being lined up to start the season by Ten Hag only for the midfielder to suffer a bad ankle injury in a pre-season friendly against Real Madrid in Houston on the club’s tour of the US that would rule him out for four months. It was a crushing blow but, in between working tirelessly to get fit, Mainoo would put the time off to good use. “I started Spanish lessons on Zoom just to pass the time a bit,” he reveals. “It’s tough to keep doing them now with the schedule being so busy but...”

Can he speak much Spanish then? “Un poco [a little],” Mainoo replies, before adding: “Now it’s into summer I’ll try to pick it up again because I enjoyed it.”

Since returning to action against Everton in late November, Mainoo has not looked back and, alongside Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Hojlund, offered hope of a brighter future during an otherwise torrid season. That was encapsulated by an iconic image of the trio perched on a perimeter board, their backs to the Stretford End, after Garnacho scored the first of two goals in a 3-0 win over West Ham in February.

Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo perch on a perimeter board
Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Mainoo perch on a perimeter board - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

“I always ask Garna before the game what’s the celebration gonna be if he scores and he said he wasn’t gonna tell me,” Mainoo says. “He was like, ‘I’m not telling you! I’m not telling you!’ So I’m like, ‘Okay’. But I saw him jump up on the advertising board when he scored and me and Rasmus just jumped up there with him. It was a nice picture.

“All of us young guys – Amad [Diallo] as well – we have a lot of fun together and we’ve definitely grown close this season.”

From the position he was in after injury to now, Mainoo admitted he “wouldn’t even have dreamed it” but now his sights are set on toppling City. And getting his own hands on a trophy this time.