He may have made his debut for the club at the age of 17 but becoming a Manchester United player was a long time in the making for Mason Greenwood.
The forward joined the club at age six, after being identified at an early age playing for his local side in Bradford.
There were few doubts that Greenwood would eventually make the step up to the first team but nobody could have predicted his debut would come so soon, nevermind in such dramatic circumstances.
His first team bow was a nine-minute cameo on an incredible night in Paris last March, during the height of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s honeymoon period back at Old Trafford.
Much has changed since then, both for the club and Greenwood himself.
Not that you’d know it from observing the 17-year-old. Ask those that have worked with Greenwood in close quarters and the reports are eerily similar; that this precocious teenager is grounded, polite, timid and as yet, unaffected by the looming stardom.
It’s why, even at the tender age of 17, that Greenwood’s story is already being championed by coaches in United’s youth set-up, who hold the striker up as an example of the ‘runway’ the academy provides for youngsters into the first team.
More than anything it’s Greenwood’s application that impressed most during his rapid rise through the academy system and that’s displayed through his rare knack of taking set-pieces with either foot.
Though naturally left-footed, Greenwood takes free-kicks from the left with his right foot and he sent former Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina the wrong way in last week’s friendly win against AC Milan when he took a penalty with his weaker foot.
While naturally gifted, it’s Greenwood’s determination to improve that’s made him such a favourite within the academy and coaches have described him as a ‘sponge’ for his willingness to learn and take on instructions.
Hailing from a family of athletes, Greenwood possesses blistering pace but he has the finesse and calmness in front of goal to go with it. His education as a midfielder during his early days means he has an eye for a pass and his ability to drop into a number ten role has drawn comparisons to Robin van Persie.
United have long-known Greenwood’s potential and it was recognised by Jose Mourinho, who took the youngster on the club’s US tour in 2018 after he hit 17 goals in 17 starts for the U18s when he was aged just 16.
He impressed in the States and his handful of appearances last term under Solskjaer were seen as an acknowledgement of his burgeoning potential, rather than his readiness for first team responsibility.
But, in a signal of Solskjaer’s belief in Greenwood, the Norwegian has talked up the youngster’s chances of replacing Romelu Lukaku following his £74m departure to Inter Milan.
‘I’m sure we do have a different attacking set up this season,’ said Solskjaer.
‘Towards the end of last season we didn’t score a lot of goals, did we? And you do have players that you think will make an impact and Mason Greenwood’s pathway would have been a lot more difficult if we had another forward there.
‘He is one we believe is going to be a big part of this squad going forwards and we’ll see a lot of him.’
Solskjaer suggested at the start of United’s pre-season tour that he would buy a replacement for Lukaku should he depart, so it’s a measure of the impression that Greenwood has made in the last six weeks that he’s now willing to go without.
It means Greenwood’s in line to feature against Chelsea on Sunday at Old Trafford and there is an opportunity to make the vacant right-wing position – which he occupied during his appearances on tour – his own in the coming weeks.
There’s an acknowledgement from United’s backroom staff that Greenwood is still growing and will need time to settle into ‘men’s football’, as Solskjaer referred to it.
The club have done all they can to protect Greenwood’s growing profile through limiting media duties and keeping him on the same terms as the first deal he signed a year ago but there’s a growing sense, much like there was with Ryan Giggs, that his rise is making the task increasingly difficult.
United have had their fingers burnt in the past by handing too much, too soon to young talents.
Adnan Januzaj was seen as a virtual certainty to make it at Old Trafford but his focus waned after he was handed a new five-year deal worth around £40,000-a-week after just six first team appearances for the club in 2013.
United are confident they will have no such trouble with Greenwood and there are already plans to improve his current deal once he reaches the age of 18.
The likes of Januzaj, Danny Welbeck and James Wilson show there are no guarantees when it comes to fulfilling promise at Old Trafford but with United struggling and Solskjaer reverting to the methods of his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson, now could be a perfect opportunity for Greenwood.
Just give him time.