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Kobbie Mainoo Skips U21 Football to Play for England – How Rare is This?

Kobbie Mainoo Skips U21 Football to Play for England – How Rare is This?

Kobbie Mainoo has indeed emerged as one of the most promising talents in Manchester United‘s recent lineup. Rising from the ranks of United’s academies, the 18-year-old has become a crucial piece in Eric Hang’s midfield puzzle. The times are indeed golden for him. After becoming Manchester United’s youngest-ever starter against Liverpool in the Premier League, he now aims to achieve another milestone with the international side.

Prior to the summer Euros, all national teams are poised to compete in internal friendly matches as a preparatory measure. England’s boss Gareth Southgate recently named a 25-man squad for the Three Lions’ Euro 2024 warm-up friendlies against Brazil and Belgium this month, with Kobbie Mainoo initially named in the England U-21 side.

However, the roster has undergone a recent update, as Kobbie Mainoo has now been added to the senior level for the first time – and he could be set to earn his first cap for his country.

The inclusion of Kobbie Mainoo is somewhat unconventional, as there haven’t been any withdrawals or injuries among the other 25 England players. Usually, a new player is only brought into the squad after its initial announcement to replace someone else. However, it’s possible that Southgate couldn’t overlook Mainoo’s performance in the recent FC Cup match against Liverpool, prompting his addition to the squad.

In a post on Instagram, Mainoo wrote: ‘It’s an honor to receive my first senior call-up.’

Kobbie Mainoo’s inclusion also signifies that he has bypassed the typical progression of playing for England U21s before joining the senior squad. Even though, he has previously represented England in various youth setups, accumulating five U17 caps, participating in two U18 games, and making six appearances for the U19 team, he will now directly transition to playing for the senior national team.

‘It’s a bit different!’ Mainoo said in a video posted on England’s official social media accounts when asked about jumping up from the U21s. ‘I got called up to the U21s, then I got a text from Steve Holland(assistant manager). He told me to come and meet him at reception.’

‘He told me that I had been called up to the main squad. I don’t think it has really sunk in yet. I have [text back home] – they are all buzzing and excited!’

While some people are skeptical about how this jump may affect the midfielder’s development, we can’t help but agree that the 18-year-old is ready for the biggest stage, thanks to his time at United’s youth academy. Indeed, he has been a key player for the Red Devils in 2024, starting 11 of 12 matches this year.

Even Southgate himself acknowledged this in the press conference, saying: ‘I think Kobbie is doing brilliantly for a young player,’ said Southgate. ‘We’re never slow to put a young player into the seniors, but he’s only had a handful of games. You have to be careful in making those decisions at the right time, and ideally we should allow him the space to develop at his own speed.’

While this feat of skipping the under 21’s for an international call-up is very unusual, it is not unforeseen, especially considering some big names in that list. Let’s have a look at a few.

Jadon Sancho – Whatever be the fallout with Eric Ten Hag at Manchester United, we can’t deny that in his Dortmund days, he impressed all. Sancho was part of the England youth team that won the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India and consequently made his debut directly for the senior team in 2018. Similar to Kobbie, he did not play for the Under 21s, even after coming through the youth ranks. Under Gareth Southgate, the 23-year-old has played 23 games and scored thrice, but since then, his trajectory has been downhill. He has not played for England for three years and has very little chance of making Southgate’s Euro 2024 squad.

Wayne Rooney – The England prodigy made his mark on the international stage at a very young age. In 2003, Rooney was called upon to come off the bench by then-manager Sven-Göran Eriksson as England faced Australia at Upton Park. In doing so, the Everton forward became the youngest senior international for the Three Lions, a record he held until Theo Walcott took it in 2006. Rooney is England’s second-highest goalscorer of all time with 53 goals, and is his country’s most-capped outfield player, having made 120 appearances for the Three Lions. But then again, he also climbed directly from the England U-19 squad to the senior team, omitting the intermediate stage.

There are also quite a few instances where players have made direct appearances for the senior team without featuring in any youth levels.

Kalvin Phillips – It seems Marcelo Bielsa was the first to take note of the winger, and by the time Gareth Southgate took notice, he was already 22. Phillips was named England’s 2020–21 Men’s Player of the Year and was called up by Gareth Southgate for the first time in August 2020, before receiving his first cap on September versus Denmark in the UEFA Nations League. Phillips did not play for any youth teams of the England national team and went directly for his senior debut. He was also chosen to represent England at UEFA Euro 2020, where he started every game that England played during the tournament all the way up to the final and has gone on to play 31 games in a white shirt.

Jamie Vardy – You might recognize him for his time at Leicester City and his memorable celebratory goals, but Jamie Vardy is another player who didn’t go through the traditional youth ranks before earning a senior call-up. His first call-up to the England national team came on May 21, 2015, under Roy Hodgson. Although he was named in the 23-man England squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, he was utilized sparingly during the tournament. Following the World Cup, Vardy opted to step aside from the England national team, informing manager Gareth Southgate that he preferred not to be considered for selection unless there was an injury crisis. Despite this, he made 26 appearances for England and scored 7 goals, all without progressing through England’s youth system.

And there are numerous such players have taken a direct route to the senior national team without going through the conventional youth ranks. Among them are talents like Ben White of Arsenal, Tyrick Mitchell, Ivan Toney, Jarrod Bowen, Ollie Watkins, Tyrone Mings, Nick Pope, James Tarkowski, and many others.

That said, there are also intriguing cases like Bukayo Saka and Theo Walcott, who were initially called up to the senior team as teenage sensations prior to their U-21 stages. However, they then again returned to play for the U-21 team to further their developmental process.

We’re undoubtedly hopeful that Kobbie Mainoo’s journey doesn’t follow that trajectory, and instead, he becomes a pivotal figure for England’s future, potentially marking an era in English football. Well, he surely has the potential for it.