It says everything about Mason Greenwood’s natural athleticism that, when reminiscing about being crowned the fastest kid in the north over 100metres, he bashfully suggests running was just a hobby.
Five years have passed since he won that prize for clocking 13.2sec for Spenborough Athletics Club near his home city of Bradford. Five years of his talent being the talk of Carrington and St George’s Park.
Manchester United players had been sharing YouTube videos of his academy goals way before he was introduced to the first-team environment. England have been waiting for him to come of age, with coaches enthusing about his two-footedness and the power generated when shooting.
Slowly we are beginning to see more of him and these are the first steps in what is promising to be a long and prosperous career. The 18-year-old made his full debut for England’s Under 21s during the win over Albania on Friday and he is likely to feature against Holland in tonight’s friendly in Doetinchem.
‘It was a different experience in Albania, a good one,’ Greenwood says of operating from the left wing. ‘I like playing different roles — anywhere across that front three — and it was a good night for me. I was a little bit unlucky when I hit the post. You’ve just got to keep your head then and remain focused.’
There is no great rush with Greenwood, which ought to aid his development. It will be small steps for the lad who still holds the Under 11s West Yorkshire record for long jump at 4.72m, set in 2012.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been careful not to rely on someone who only turned 18 six weeks ago, while his national team manager Aidy Boothroyd stresses that he is young even for the Under 21s. But Greenwood is assured as he gives his first interview. He is clearly used to the expectation and thrives on it.
The striker, who averaged a goal a game in United’s academy, says he wants to pick the brains of an idol he has surprisingly never clapped eyes on — Wayne Rooney.
‘It has to be Rooney,’ he says. ‘The Brazilian Ronaldo, too. They’ve always stood out for me and I’ve always looked up to them. Ronaldo was quite a while ago but my dad used to show me clips of him.
‘Rooney is such a great goalscorer and that is what I want to be. You have to have a role model. I’ve never seen him, though. I’ve watched his games and the highlights on YouTube. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him one day.’
You sense that meeting will happen soon enough, particularly given Rooney has moved back to Cheshire ahead of his new chapter with Derby. Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard have become sounding boards in the meantime.
With England, it is Phil Foden of rivals Manchester City. The pair room together and have formed a bond. Greenwood reveals Foden, only a year his senior, has played the big brother role. They do not socialise but the friendship has blossomed on international duty.
‘Phil was one of the youngest at the Euros last year, so he’s been in my position and that really does help me,’ Greenwood says. ‘Phil’s just told me to grab the chance if I get it, do the best I can.’
Rashford is another one for Greenwood to study. Now 22, he was in the same boat as Greenwood not so long ago. However, whereas Rashford was thrown in and kept in by Louis van Gaal at United, Greenwood is being allowed to feel his way under Solskjaer. ‘The manager is a really nice person,’ Greenwood says with emphasis. ‘Obviously he was a great goalscorer at United and I know about him, I’ve watched him. He’s a great manager in my eyes. I’ve got so many role models around me and Marcus is another one. I just want to follow in his footsteps.’
Greenwood has enough raw talent to give him a chance. There is finessing to be done, extra sessions with Solskjaer and England, but the tools are there. He is equally adept with either foot, although superstition dictates penalties are always taken with his right after a miss with his left against Manchester City in 2014.
Boothroyd said: ‘Sometimes you look at Mason and think, “OK, what are you going to do”, and then he does a bit of brilliance out of nothing.
‘Unpredictability is a good word to sum him up. He’s got such power.’
A first goal for the Under 21s cannot be far away for a player who has already scored three times for United this season. But there is recognition that his progress will be a marathon, not one of those 100m races in which he excels.
The sprinting stories have even grown over time. There was a suggestion by one of Greenwood’s old coaches that he turned up and coasted to a 100m win without the need of a stretch beforehand.
‘I prepared for the race,’ he grins. ‘Any spare weekends I used to do a bit. My sister Ashton used to do a lot of running, too. Obviously football took over.’