Viva Garnacho! The inside story of the Man Utd teenager's stunning rise

Alejandro Garnacho NXGN GFX
The Argentine winger has burst into United's first team in a superb debut season, and has the mentality to make history at Old Trafford

From George Best to Ryan Giggs through to the early days of Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United have had a love affair with wingers. Now, Alejandro Garnacho has rekindled that romance during a stunning first season in the Red Devil's first team.

Garnacho was the leading light of United's FA Youth Cup-winning side in 2022 and was already knocking on the door of the first team last year. He has smashed through it this season, scoring four goals and providing six assists for Erik ten Hag’s side in 10 starts and 19 appearances as a substitute.

Garnacho's rise has been so impressive that, on Tuesday, he was named in the inaugural NXGN Nine as one of the top nine footballers in the world born in 2004 or after.

A bad ankle injury suffered against Southampton has cruelly interrupted his season and prevented him from making his Argentina debut. But Ten Hag expects him back at the business end of the campaign, when United will be trying to add the FA Cup and Europa League to their earlier Carabao Cup triumph, in addition to sealing their return to the Champions League.

GOAL charts the progress of United's thrilling winger from when he first caught the club's attention aged 16, to his rise to a Premier League match-winner...

  1. One of their own
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    One of their own

    The 18-year-old has already formed a special bond with United fans, who serenade him with the chant: "Viva Garnacho, running down the wing, hear United sing"

    Sound familiar? The chant recently belonged to Ronaldo, and it speaks volumes of supporters’ belief in the teenager that Garnacho has become their new idol since the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s departure.

    But it is not just Garnacho's talent that has endeared fans to him. Even though his family roots are in Spain and Argentina, he effectively graduated at United and has been inspired by the club’s tradition of producing thrill-seeking youngsters.

    "I think that is in our blood, our style of football is designed to get supporters out of their chairs," Nick Cox, United's head of academy, tells GOAL. "You have to be creative and to play with flair. That's a real Manchester United thing.

    "Alejandro has really embraced the fact that our supporters not only warm to entertaining players, but they really enjoy watching young players that they feel are one of them.

    "Albeit he arrived aged 16 from Spain, but I think people consider him one of our own. Our fans have seen him in his early days, watched him grow, and they're enjoying being on the journey with him."

  2. 'Obsessed with football'
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    'Obsessed with football'

    Garnacho was recommended to United via their Spanish scout Gerardo Guzman after making a name for himself at Atletico Madrid’s academy. The winger’s ability was plain to see from the videos staff were shown and his love for the game also shone through.

    Cox recalls: "We could see that he was quick, we could see he was a creative player, who enjoys the one-v-one duel. And even though it's not quite so easy to tell when you're watching from afar, you could see character-wise he was a young boy that loved the game and was obsessed with football."

    Convincing the youngster, then aged 16, to move to Manchester was harder than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic. With travel and face-to-face meetings severely restricted, United’s courtship of Garnacho took place on video calls.

    However, the player's determination to take his career to the next level played into the club’s hands.

    "He knew that he wanted to be the best footballer he could possibly be and would have gone to any length to do that," Cox says. "He had a hunger to play in the Premier League and he had a real appetite to play for Manchester United."

  3. Settling in the first year, exploding in the second

    Settling in the first year, exploding in the second

    Garnacho arrived in England determined to make it at United, but faced the added challenge of arriving in September 2020, when Covid restrictions were still in force in Manchester.

    For most of his first year, Garnacho and his team-mates could only train for 75 minutes per day and were forbidden from being in the dressing room.

    “For a young kid to arrive in those conditions and integrate into a new football club with a new language is not an easy thing to do,” Cox explains. “He was a slow starter here and took a little time in his first year with us to find his feet, but that's fine. We were always going to be patient. The second year was when he really caught the eye.”

    In his second season, Garnacho played for the Under-18s and U23s, but really shone in the FA Youth Cup, scoring seven times in six matches, five of which were at Old Trafford.

    The further United got in the tournament, the more people turned up, and the more Garnacho and his team-mates raised their game. A record 67,000 fans packed out Old Trafford for the final against Nottingham Forest, where Garnacho scored twice in a 3-1 win.

  4. Thriving in the first team
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    Thriving in the first team

    Garnacho’s exploits with the youth team earned him a handful of minutes under Ralf Rangnick and a place on United’s pre-season tour with the first team.

    But appearances in Ten Hag’s side did not come easy and it was not until the Europa League match at home to Sheriff in October that he got his first start, producing an electric display.

    He scored his debut goal a week later away to Real Sociedad, soon followed by his first Premier League goal, a wonderful 90th-minute winner at Fulham. In the last three months, Garnacho has set up Marcus Rashford’s winning goal against Manchester City, scored against arch rivals Leeds and hit a superb late strike to sink West Ham in the FA Cup fifth round.

    Cox has watched Garnacho’s steps in the first team with pride and been impressed by how he is starting to replicate his feats with the youth team on the biggest stage of all.

    "That's the hardest jump for any young footballer, that transition from youth football to first team football," he says. "And once again, it didn't happen straight away. He was still a young developer, he needed to learn, needed to improve and he needed some support from his team-mates as well to help him understand the demands of the rigours of first team football. It took him the first third of the season to play his way into being trusted to start games."

  5. 'Believe anything is possible'

    'Believe anything is possible'

    While proud of Garnacho’s progress, Cox is keen to stress that he has not ‘made it’ as a Manchester United player yet. He does, though, know what Garnacho is capable of and he knows how ambitious he is.

    “We're excited by the early stages of his development, very excited by what he's showing us," he says. "And 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.

    “He's got a positive group of staff here, we will be encouraging him to believe that anything is possible.”