Five members of the Garnacho family were present in the Old Trafford directors’ box for Alejandro’s first Manchester United start and there were five times as many in the Reale Arena on Thursday night.
United supporters nearby estimated there were 25 members of the Garnacho fan club present, the majority having travelled from Madrid, where Alejandro was born.
Like in Manchester a week earlier, Garnacho’s brother wept. This time, so did his father – in celebration of his son’s first career goal against Real Sociedad. Garnacho’s mother and father are the inspirations he credits with his development.
Garnacho merged his fingers and thumbs to form a heart shape; the same gesture he chose to crown his first goal for the United academy two years ago on Monday. He then sought Cristiano Ronaldo’s permission to pay homage to his sleeping celebration.
You have to be something special for Ronaldo to pass up a shot to pass to you. Ronaldo’s assist was slightly underhit yet Garnacho’s first two touches on the run with his right foot transformed a half-chance into a one-on-one and he struck clinically with his left.
There is little missing from a stratospheric year that only Marcus Rashford has rivalled in the last 30 years of United academy graduates: playing with Ronaldo, training with Lionel Messi, winning the FA Youth Cup, touring with United, debuting for United, starting for United, scoring for United.
Garnacho learned a harsh lesson on the pre-season tour when his tardiness for two team meetings deprived him of a kick from Bangkok to Perth, via Melbourne. The United manager Erik ten Hag did not select Garnacho until the final friendly against Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford when Garnacho produced a crowd-pleasing performance.
Following his tour transgressions, insiders say there has been “a real change in attitude” from Garnacho and he is now among the first arrivals for training at Carrington, additional evidence Ten Hag’s disciplinarian methods are effective with young and old. Ronaldo is more than twice Garnacho’s age.
What should not go unnoticed is Garnacho reported for pre-season earlier than expected, as the Manchester Evening News reported at the time. He was entitled to a three-week vacation after representing Argentina Under-20s in the Toulon Tournament, their final fixture on June 10. Garnacho was driven into Carrington 17 days later, having requested his return date be brought forward so he could impress Ten Hag.
Since Garnacho posed with his “idol” Messi in Buenos Aires in March (615,041 Instagram likes), he has been more deferential towards Ronaldo. Twenty-four days later, he hailed the “greatest of all time” after Ronaldo gifted him his hat-trick ball at full-time against Norwich (1,295,026 likes). That was Garnacho’s maiden first-team squad appearance.
Many present for the Vallecano draw on July 31 will have already been familiar with Garnacho’s swagger during United’s triumphant Youth Cup run when he pillaged seven goals in six games, including two in the home final. Draped in an Argentina flag and clutching his winner’s medal, he coolly savoured the spontaneous “Viva Garnacho” chanting from the Stretford End.
Against Sociedad, it was “Ar-gen-ti-na”. Juan Sebastian Veron, Gabriel Heinze, Carlos Tevez, Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo, Sergio Romero and Lisandro Martinez have all earned that honour. The chant no longer solely belongs to cult figure Martinez.
Sources say Martinez treats Garnacho akin to a younger brother and is particularly protective of his compatriot. Martinez arrived with the requisite mentality for a United player and there is a feeling he is hothousing Garnacho, who is also close with fellow Latino Facundo Pellistri.
Taking the plunge to relocate from his home city of Madrid for Manchester during a global pandemic speaks volumes about Garnacho’s character. The third Spanish-born United academy recruit in the summer of 2020 after Marc Jurado and Alvaro Fernandez, a colleague has jokingly dubbed them the ‘Brexit babes’, a reference to the last window to sign teenagers aged under 18 before the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union.
Following mandatory quarantine, Garnacho was subjected to the monotony of toing and froing between United’s Carrington training complex and his digs in Sale. His English is now described as “near-perfect” (although United continue to resist interview requests) and Garnacho’s parents and brother reside with him in Manchester. In a transitionary first season, Garnacho tallied a reasonable seven goals in 18 appearances.
Ralf Rangnick‘s academy legacy from his spiralling spell as interim manager was Anthony Elanga but he granted Garnacho exposure. Rangnick was in attendance at Old Trafford in late February to see Garnacho score twice in United’s Youth Cup quarter-final win over Leicester.
In Garnacho’s six starts for the Under-23s and Under-18s at Old Trafford last season, he plundered eight goals.
Rangnick promoted Garnacho to first-team training upon his return from a surprising call-up to the Argentina squad in late March, recognition that signalled Garnacho’s switch of international allegiance from Spain through his Argentine mother.
His U20s coach is the garlanded former Liverpool and Barcelona enforcer Javier Mascherano. United have been appreciative of Mascherano, who met with technical director Darren Fletcher and academy head Nick Cox to settle on a suitable process for Garnacho’s development.
Garnacho emerged late on in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea in late April, aged 17 years, nine months and 27 days, for his United debut. The United chief executive Richard Arnold and injured captain Harry Maguire congratulated the overwhelmed Garnacho family at full-time.
Well-placed sources at Carrington say Garnacho’s physique has developed “significantly” in the two years since he touched down in Manchester. The strength and conditioning staff are delighted with his application during gym sessions and Garnacho requested a bespoke programme over the summer to gain muscle mass ahead of an intended breakthrough campaign. He has also hired a personal nutritionist.
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