I trained with Kobbie Mainoo and thought he was a trialist - two years later he's a Man United and England star

Kobbie Mainoo bites his FA Cup winners medal with a bucket hat on.
-Credit: (Image: Eddie Keogh - The FA/The FA via Getty Images.)

June 16, 2024, is a date that Manchester United starlet Kobbie Mainoo will dream of reflecting on with great fondness in years to come.

After being included in England's final 26-man squad for the European Championship, he will dream of starting their tournament opener against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen next Sunday evening. If given the nod by Gareth Southgate, his first competitive start for his country will come at a major tournament.

Given his England debut as recently as March, the prospect of starting in Germany would complete a fairytale campaign for the 19-year-old, who will no doubt still be on cloud nine after scoring the decisive goal in the FA Cup final last month. That marked the latest highlight in his growing collection.

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Establishing himself as a regular starter at Old Trafford, Mainoo will now dream of doing the same with England. Southgate has lauded the youngster in the build-up to the tournament and it feels only natural that he will play his part in England's search for success.

If Mainoo does get the nod to complete England's midfield, almost certainly alongside Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, it will be a reflection of the hard work he has put in and the maturity he has shown. Those who have been fortunate enough to witness his rise over the last few years are very aware of just how special he is.

That talent was apparent from a very young age; age five, to be exact.

"In terms of my time at Cheadle and Gatley, he was definitely a standout player by a mile at that young age," Steve Vare, who is still involved with the Stockport club, told the Manchester Evening News in January last year. "It was all a bit 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."

After joining United at the age of nine, Mainoo progressed through the club's youth ranks and experienced the thrill of playing in front 67,492 people in the 2022 FA Youth Cup final, helping United's Under-18s beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 alongside Alejandro Garnacho. That reward, however, did not come without hard work beforehand.

Kobbie Mainoo lifts the FA Youth Cup aloft in 2022.
Kobbie Mainoo won the FA Youth Cup with Manchester United in 2022. -Credit:Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images.

He had caught the eye at academy level from a young age and United knew they had a very exciting prospect on their hands. In an attempt to raise his game and aid his development, the club ensured Mainoo benefitted from the Pro Experience Programme, founded in October 2021.

It was an innovative scheme created by the club that essentially allowed young players to join EFL clubs on work experience. No game time was involved, but they were able to train with first-team squads, earning invaluable insight and experience.

Mainoo was one of the beneficiaries of the scheme, joining Sheffield Wednesday, who were a League One club at the time, alongside Charlie McNeill. Dillon Hoogewerf also spent time on the other side of the Pennines.

It was no secret that McNeill and Hoogewerf spent time at Hillsborough a few years ago, but it was not revealed until much later that Mainoo also traded Manchester for Sheffield. Earlier this year, Wednesday forward Josh Windass revealed that Mainoo was part of the scheme and that he had trained with him.

Windass originally thought that Mainoo was a player Wednesday had taken on trial. He was impressed by what he saw of the Stockport-born midfielder, so much so that he thought he was too good to possibly be a trialist.

Speaking to Pitch Side in February, Windass said: "He came to Sheffield Wednesday two seasons ago for like three weeks training to get experience training with men. He trained with us every day for like three weeks. He was serious.

Josh Windass celebrates after scoring for Sheffield Wednesday in the 2023 League One play-off final at Wembley.
Josh Windass trained with Kobbie Mainoo at Sheffield Wednesday. -Credit:Marc Atkins/Getty Images.

"Man United sent him to us to get experience training with the first team. He was good. We didn't know who he was at first. We were laughing because we thought he was on trial.

"I was like: 'He's all right'. Normally you get trialists who are not very good. I was like: 'He's a decent little player, him'. He wasn't there three weeks later and I was like: 'Where's that trialist gone?'

"They [United] sent players to us. They didn't come to learn, but they were getting smashed every day by League One players. He was training with us for about two or three weeks. He was good. I think they were thinking about doing a loan.

"I didn't even notice and then I saw him playing about two or three weeks ago and Barry Bannan text me to say he was the kid who was training with us."

Mainoo made his United debut just over 12 months after spending time on work experience at Hillsborough, starting the Carabao Cup quarter-final triumph over Charlton Athletic in January 2023.

Since making his United bow against the Addicks, Mainoo has made 35 appearances, scored five goals, made his England debut, scored in an FA Cup final and is now in the conversation to start at a major tournament for his country. His rise has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Almost everyone of a United persuasion will be praying that he starts in Germany and gets the chance to show the world his capabilities on one of the biggest stages. For Windass and members of the Wednesday squad, they might experience a feeling of 'what if', perhaps pondering what it would have been like to have played with him had a loan deal come to fruition.