KOBBIE MAINOO was hailed by Gary Neville as a player Pep Guardiola would want in his side after his first Prem start for Manchester United.
And if his boyhood coach Ian Kelly had his way, the 18-year-old would now be playing for Manchester City rather than their greatest rivals.
Manchester United ace Kobbie Mainoo could have been playing for Manchester CityCredit: Getty
Mainoo oozed incredible calm and authority in United’s 3-0 victory at Everton on Sunday — even if it was Alejandro Garnacho’s sensational overhead-kick opener that attracted the global headlines.
Former United star Neville declared: “The biggest compliment I can pay him — and it hurts to say this — he looked like a Manchester City player.
“Honestly, I was watching him and thinking that’s a player that Pep Guardiola will be looking at and thinking, ‘I want him in my midfield, that’s what my midfield players do’.”
Mainoo was a treble-winner — just like City’s players last season — with a league title and two cup triumphs during his last season playing for Failsworth Dynamos in the Manchester Youth and Mini Soccer League.
Kelly, 60, who coached the quiet, intense kid, said: “I couldn’t be prouder of the progress that Kobbie is making — but I’ve got one little regret because I’m a Blue.
“When he was with us he was training at the City academy as well as at United, starting when he was about seven.
“By the time he turned nine the time had come to sign on with one of them and he had to make a choice — it turned out to be Old Trafford.
“Good for him, too, even if I wish he was at the Etihad.
“Kobbie was always a nice kid, quiet but he always stood out — a bit like he did against Everton the other day.
“I couldn’t help but think what he might be under Pep.
“I am delighted to say he still remembers me and Failsworth Dynamos. After he won the FA Youth Cup last year he messaged me to say how much he appreciated the time he spent with us.
“That was typical of a lad who only ever gave me one bit of trouble.
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Man Utd legend Gary Neville claims Mainoo would be great at Man CityCredit: PA
“We would normally sign ten players and the games would be six-a-side so everyone had to be rotated to get them all time on the pitch.
“Kobbie wouldn’t half moan when it was his turn to be hooked but hat-trick or not, he had to let other lads have a chance.”
Mainoo may not have had an opportunity at Failsworth but for Kelly changing the goalposts for him.
His dad Felix was looking for a strong team that would challenge his son after he found things too easy with Cheadle and Gatley Juniors, based near the Stockport-born midfielder’s home.
Kelly recalled: “One Sunday morning I was approached by a quiet gentleman who had been standing on the touchline with his lad watching our under-sevens play. He asked me if I had any spots left in our team. Although we were already full I got Kobbie to come along and start training with us anyway.
“The rest is, of course, history and now I see how they are talking about him having this vision on the pitch.
Mainoo’s former manager Ian Kelly wanted him at Man CityCredit: Getty
“But if anybody had a vision about Kobbie and how good he might be it was his dad.”
Mainoo was aged five when he first joined Cheadle and Gatley but even at such a tender age he was an instant standout according to Steve Vare, his first coach.
Vare recognised immediately he was too good for the reception side and wanted him to be challenging himself at under-sevens — but there was no room at that age level.
He recalls: “It was all too easy and I was trying to make it more difficult to test him.
“His dad asked whether he would be pushed up into some of the teams, a couple of ages ahead of himself, but at the time we were already fully subscribed.
“We used to hand out man-of-the-match trophies but you could have given it to him pretty much every week.
Mainoo has left a lot of promise at Man Utd after some impressive performancesCredit: Getty
“So it was a case of handing out the award for best effort and that sort of thing.
“If it was just based on man of the match, Kobbie would have won it each time.
“He needed to play maybe one or even two years up, or in an academy.
“I would always say to his dad that Kobbie is basically too good to be down here but I haven’t got anywhere else in the Cheadle and Gatley set-up that would challenge him.
“We obviously only played a small part in his development but everyone here is still delighted for him.”
Mainoo again looked comfortable as a second-half sub during United’s error-strewn 3-3 Champions League draw with Galatasaray in midweek.
He seems certain to feature again for United at Newcastle after boss Erik ten Hag declared him ready for a third big test in six days.
After so many years of playing against older kids, the son of dad and mum Felix and Abela Herold has finally found his proper level.
And the choice he made as a nine- year-old is one that has convinced former United skipper Neville that the Reds now have a midfield talent for the ages.
Right from under City’s noses.