Mason Greenwood turned 17 on October 1. By October 2, he had penned his first professional contract with Manchester United.
The teenager from Yorkshire has so impressed within the Red Devils’ academy that the 20-time champions of England tied him down to professional terms at the earliest opportunity.
A quick glance at his statistics for the past year, or a cursory viewing of a highlights compilation, will tell you precisely why that was a wise move.
Greenwood top-scored for United as they won the Under-18 Premier League North last season, despite being significantly younger than most of his team-mates and opponents.
His form was rewarded with a place on United’s first-team pre-season tour in the USA, giving the youngster a taste of life with the senior side and bringing him under José Mourinho’s watchful gaze.
Having returned to the academy side for the 2018/19 season, Greenwood appears more mature – both physically and mentally – for his first-team exposure, a dominant presence at the point of United’s attack.
Greenwood already has nine goals and three assists from just six under-18 league games this term, with many of his strikes utterly spectacular and impressively diverse.
The young striker started out as a midfield player at schoolboy level and he has retained many of the instincts developed in the deeper role. Comfortable coming deep to receive the ball, he is confident in possession, a fine passer and a powerful runner, either out wide or through the middle.
But it is his creativity in the final third which really catches the eye. Stylistically, Greenwood recalls images of former Old Trafford hero Robin van Persie, due to his upright running style and superlative ball-striking technique.
He also evidently possesses the Dutchman’s clinical touch, as demonstrated by an unerring finish in his UEFA Youth League debut against Valencia recently.
There are also echoes of another United legend of the recent past in his game, though, with his two-footedness and dribbling ability reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo.
One of the most the most noticeable traits Greenwood possess is his mobility on the frontline. Whether dropping deep or running the channels, his movement creates space for team-mates.
Above, we see an example of this from an under-18s game against Blackburn Rovers last season, with the United star peeling out to the right flank to offer a passing outlet.
In wide areas, his impeccable touch and leg-tangling dribbling ability makes him a fearsome prospect for full-backs. Here, he spins away from his marker and bursts towards the byline.
Drawing in two more defenders, Greenwood has the poise and precision to lift his head and pick out the run of the advancing midfielder, leaving his colleague with the simplest of tap-ins.
While there are quicker players within the United youth set-up – such as flying Dutchman Tahith Chong – the key to Greenwood’s dribbling success is his unpredictability. He possesses the rare trait to strike the ball equally well with either foot, meaning he is also comfortable dribbling to either side.
Ordinarily, any defender worth his or her salt would aim to funnel an advancing attacker on to their weaker side, but this isn’t possible with Greenwood.
As we see above, in a recent fixture against Derby County, Greenwood has dropped away from the frontline to pick up the ball in a deep zone, before then looking to break forward and commit defenders.
As he approaches the edge of the penalty area, his opponents are given no clue as to which way he intends to move.
This would be a confusing prospect for a seasoned pro, let alone a teenager still learning the art of defending.
After a couple of quick, Ronaldo-esque step-overs, Greenwood elects to burst to his right, unleashing a rapier of a shot beyond the helpless goalkeeper to give United the lead.
And, like both Van Persie and Ronaldo, Greenwood has a penchant for the spectacular, capable of the game-winning moments of breathtaking technique which set the very best players apart.
Once such example came in September, when Greenwood broke the deadlock against West Bromwich Albion with a stunning, outside-of-the-boot volley from 25 yards. The United striker already has a highlight reel of strikes that most players would be happy to own for a career’s work.
He may have only just turned 17, but Greenwood already appears to have outgrown under-18s football, running through opponents at that level like the big kid on the school playground.
While there is no rush for a first-team introduction – although United’s ponderous frontline could do with a shot in the arm – Greenwood’s rapid development can’t be ignored.
The Red Devils’ famed academy has yet another gem worthy of the excitement he is generating.