Soccer-Mainoo credits Ten Hag for meteoric rise to England team

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - International Friendly - England v Iceland - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - June 7, 2024 England's Kobbie Mainoo looks dejected after the match REUTERS/Molly Darlington/File Photo

BLANKENHAIN, Germany (Reuters) - England's teenage midfielder Kobbie Mainoo said he is relieved that Erik ten Hag will be back as boss of Manchester United, and credits the manager for his place in England's Euro 2024 squad in Germany.

After months of speculation around Ten Hag's job security, United decided to retain the manager on the heels of an FA Cup victory.

"Obviously happy to be building with him, he's already got two trophies, hopefully there's more to come, and it's nice to have that peace of mind knowing what manager we're going back to," 19-year-old Mainoo told reporters on Tuesday at England's training base.

"I'm so grateful for (Ten Hag), that he showed so much trust in me and believed in me, I can't thank him enough."

Mainoo was a late substitute in England's 1-0 victory over Serbia in their European Championship opener on Saturday and is likely to feature in their Group C clash with Denmark on Thursday -- a meteoric rise after less than two full seasons in United's first team.

Mainoo was scouted by United at the age of six and the club's Academy Manager, Nick Cox, said beyond his remarkable skills and composure, Mainoo simply loves the game.

"We make sure they never lose that childlike obsession with the intrinsic love of exploring the ball," Cox said in an interview on the team's website. "Kobbie has always loved the ball and been extremely comfortable with it."

Mainoo had only just stepped up to United's under-21 side in 2022 when he joined Ten Hag's squad for a winter training camp in Spain, raising eyebrows when he scored in a game against Cadiz.

Injury in the 2023 pre-season stalled his progress -- if only briefly.

"(The injury) was a tough one to take ... it was just all about patience and timing really," he said. "I didn't know what the season was going to look like when I came back."

Mainoo needn't have worried. He was thrust into his first top-flight start at Everton in late-November, having only been a late substitute in one game the previous season. His poise in the midfield at Goodison Park earned him the man-of-the-match award in their 3-0 win.

He put an exclamation mark on his breakout season when he scored against Manchester City in United's shock 2-1 FA Cup victory at Wembley in May.

The soft-spoken teen -- who still lives with his parents and still parks in the club's academy lot despite graduating to the first team -- was nonchalant when asked about his unfailingly steady presence on the pitch.

"I was a striker for most my academy days and so I love being on the ball," he said. "I don't know, maybe playing futsal? I was just always comfortable playing in tight areas."

Mainoo is one of a dozen England players with no major tournament experience, and the squad has been doing bonding exercises, including a bike ride on Sunday.

He is enjoying playing alongside Jude Bellingham, who scored England's lone goal against Serbia in a dominant performance.

"Everyone knows how great of a player he is, and he's such a nice guy as well," Mainoo said. "He's demanding (in training), he sets high standards that he expects, so to play with him and be around him is great."

Ghana approached Mainoo to play for them; he is eligible because both is parents were born there.

"Obviously, I'm proud of my Ghanaian heritage," he said, "but it's always been a dream to play for England."

(Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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