Alejandro Garnacho was the toast of a sold-out Old Trafford as Manchester United supporters were finally given a cause for optimism.
There haven’t been too many silver linings in a Red Devils season which has veered from the hapless to the humiliating on a seemingly hour-by-hour basis. But the club’s youth side did suggest that times could be changing as they lifted the FA Youth Cup for a record 11th time.
United’s youngsters, inspired by the brilliant Garnacho, ran out 3-1 winners over Nottingham Forest in front of a capacity Theatre of Dreams.
Captain Rhys Bennett put the hosts in front in the first half, before Forest got back on level terms when Joshua Powell’s shot somehow managed to beat Radek Vitek in the United goal. But after the break Garnacho, who had scored five in the run to the final, took centre stage.
The 17-year-old first won and then converted a controversial penalty, with replays showing he was outside the box, before scoring his second deep into stoppage time.
Garnacho has already been called up to the Argentina national team and linked up with Lionel Messi, but has made no secret that his footballing idol is United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. And he took inspiration from the Portuguese icon, celebrating his goals with Ronaldo’s trademark ‘Siu’ celebration.
United fans also sang the chant designed for their superstar forward, but adapted for a player who looks destined to become a star of the future. It was also a night of high emotion for his parents, who struggled to hold back tears following their teenage son’s exploits, both crying in the stands as fans celebrated around them.
The winger already has seven minutes of senior action this season, having come on as a late sub against Chelsea last month. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick tipped Garnacho for the top, labelling him one of the club’s most promising players.
And his Under-18 coach Travis Binnion had similarly lofty praise for a youngster that looks primed to have an impact for years to come. “That boy could be in any stadium in the world and he wouldn’t care,” Binnion told reporters. “That’s his makeup, and a few of them are like that, that’s why they are going to have good careers.”
The result brought out the great and good of former United greats, with Sir Alex Ferguson amongst many famous faces in the crowd and while incoming boss Erik ten Hag wasn’t in attendance, he will be excited at the crop of youngsters set to emerge from the Class of 22.
Binnion added that he was delighted to have maintained the long and storied history of United nurturing talent ready for the step-up to senior football. He added: “This football club is remarkable at that. It is the best in the world at that. We’ve got to keep that going, we’ve got a responsibility to keep that going, that pipeline. It’s just nice to give the fans a bit of something because they are different class, aren’t they?”