MASON GREENWOOD will look back and realise that this season marked his coming of age in more ways than one.
The striker’s campaign began with public humiliation when he and Phil Foden were sent home from Iceland by England boss Gareth Southgate for breaching Covid protocols.
They invited two models into their Reykjavik hotel room having made their Three Lions debut last September.
Up until that point Greenwood, 19, looked every bit the budding superstar — just like his partner in crime from the other side of Manchester.
Yet while Foden, 20, went on to prove he truly is a prodigy with City and has since scored an England double, ironically against Iceland, Greenwood’s career went into the freezer.
The teenager scored 18 goals in his breakthrough season but was clearly hit hard by that England shame. He managed just four goals in 38 appearance for the Red Devils after being told to pack his bags by Southgate.
In many of those games he looked a shadow of the two-footed attacker who terrified defenders.
While Foden flourished it appeared that the weight of that misguided hotel invite got to Greenwood and he has not been in a Southgate squad since.
Last month he even found himself back with England’s Under-21s before being forced to withdraw with injury.
But thanks to the help of veteran Edinson Cavani he has emerged into the light with three goals in his last five games.
He scored and had an assist in the 3-1 win over Tottenham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is delighted to see the change in him.
The Old Trafford boss said: “He has come through that difficult patch as a stronger person and a better player.”
Uruguayan Cavani may well quit the club at the end of the season when his one-year deal ends but the 34-year-old will leave having had a major influence on Greenwood’s development.
If anyone has helped the Bradford-born striker battle through his problems it is the ex-Paris Saint-Germain star.
Solskjaer added: “Playing with Edinson Cavani has been a top example for him.
“Edi leads by example even though the language barrier has made it a bit difficult.
“But Mason and Edi have struck up a very good relationship. I can see that Edi appreciates Mason's talent, his hunger and his willingness to learn.
“And in Cavani, he is learning from one of the very best.
“It’s like when I speak about having Sir Alex Ferguson as a manager. If I couldn’t learn from him then there was no point in going into management.
“If Mason, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial can’t learn off Edinson then they can’t learn from anyone. He is a very good example to every single one of them.”
Greenwood has been raved about by United insiders as a natural-born striker ever since he joined the club as a six-year-old.
But Solskjaer goes into Sunday's visit of Burnley determined that even if Cavani does leave United Greenwood will not be rushed into the role as main striker.
He insisted: “Maybe in the future he can play as a central striker, but I still think that’s a few years away.
“Being a centre-forward in the Premier League is probably the hardest position to play.
“At the moment, I think Mason is more suited to playing that wide role, dropping into pockets, finding space and running in behind.
“I don’t want him with his back to goal and having two centre-backs up his backside.
Mason isn’t just a natural finisher — he’s a natural footballer. He is so smooth and he’s matured so much this season.
“I think we have found a good way to develop him and he might end up as a No 9.
“Mason isn’t just a natural finisher — he’s a natural footballer. He is so smooth and he’s matured so much this season.
“You can see his body has developed and he’s getting stronger. His consistency is getting better and he will start scoring more goals, that’s for sure.
“I have been really impressed and happy with his development this season.”
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