Garnacho’s talent will shine through as he matures at Manchester United

Playing is all that matters to Alejandro Garnacho and when he does not, that is when frustration kicks in. No one who has seen him on the pitch could ever doubt his ability but the Argentinian has faced public criticism over his attitude this season.

Last month Manchester United’s head coach, Erik ten Hag, issued a warning, shortly after his teammate Bruno Fernandes looked back to the summer trip to Thailand and Australia and said: “On the tour he didn’t have the best attitude that he should have had,” arguing that was behind his lack of opportunities early in the season. Garnacho turned up late to two meetings and was offered only one friendly appearance over the summer as a result.

Quick Guide

How do I sign up for sport breaking news alerts?


  • Download the Guardian app from the iOS App Store on iPhone or the Google Play store on Android by searching for ‘The Guardian’.
  • If you already have the Guardian app, make sure you’re on the most recent version.
  • In the Guardian app, tap the Menu button at the bottom right, then go to Settings (the gear icon), then Notifications.
  • Turn on sport notifications.

Thank you for your feedback.

Professionalism is not a concept fully embraced by many 18-year-olds but it should come with maturity and an improvement in his attitude has already been noted since Ten Hag’s critique. Just because a person is incredibly talented does not automatically mean they will acquire every aspect required for success immediately but the sooner he does get to the standards required, the better it will be for Garnacho in the long term.

The perceived character flaws away from the pitch go against what he shows on it. Garnacho has a lust for football, a desire to play every minute to show everything he is capable of because of his unshakable belief in his own ability. Not being a regular in a top-six Premier League team at 18 would not be a source of frustration for many but Garnacho is already desperate to prove he is the best option for Ten Hag on the left wing. What he needs to accept, however, is that at his tender age he does not possess everything required.

What is obvious is that Garnacho comes alive with the ball at his feet, which comes as no surprise for someone that loves football as much as the Argentinian does. He is desperate to get possession whenever he can and run fearlessly at defenders, unperturbed by previous failures against his opponents. There is speed and skill, a new trick for every dribble to try to outfox a full-back who thinks he has his number. However there is still a need to learn how and when to use each attribute. He needs to know that sometimes the quickest way to goal does not always involve an extra trick, because the space is straight ahead when someone has the pace, as shown by Garnacho’s direct dribbling to score against Real Sociedad. That finish and his late winner against Fulham in the Premier League are evidence of his composure and unfazed nature in pressured situations.

Garnacho has improved his running without the ball, to make sure he is in the right position to receive it in order to have maximum impact in the final third, and is excellent in attacking transitions. Understanding he is not the finished product is important and the former Atléticp Madrid youth player recognises this. He works incredibly hard on the training ground to get better in the aspect of the game he is yet to perfect. Since arriving in 2020, Garnacho has been following a development plan and exceeded expectations in the process. United have been understanding of his prodigious talent, which needs to be handled differently to others.

Alejandro Garnacho in action in a friendly between Manchester United and Real Betis in December 2022
Alejandro Garnacho displays his skills in a friendly between Manchester United and Real Betis in December. Photograph: Ash Donelon/Manchester United/Getty Images

Aided by a robust physicality, Garnacho will be able to cope with the rigours of the Premier League in the long term. He is unfazed by the cut and thrust of first-team football, instead he embraces it. In the immediate future he is still adapting to the requirements of playing at the highest level for 90 minutes. There is nowhere to catch his breath in the relentless nature of being at a club such as United, who play twice a week.

Last season Garnacho was the shining star in United’s FA Youth Cup triumph under the tutelage of Travis Binnion, scoring seven times in the competition, including two in the final against Nottingham Forest to help lift the trophy. Throughout the competition, he was the player the under-18s could rely on to produce quality. As an indicator of the confidence he has in his own ability, he told coaches he would score a double in the final, a prediction he was happy to fulfil in front of more than 60,000 at Old Trafford.

That came a fortnight after making his Premier League debut in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford. Argentina called him up for internationals in March, which is an impressive endorsement of a then 17-year-old. A week training with his idol Lionel Messi and a squad of soon-to-be World Cup winners could be a cynical way to put Garnacho off returning to play for Spain, whom he represented at youth level before switching allegiances to the country of his mother’s birth.

United are looking into bringing in another forward in January after Cristiano Ronaldo’s unceremonious exit and with Jadon Sancho having been on an individual training plan away from his colleagues during the World Cup break. Garnacho has the chance in the coming weeks to show he can be consistent in the starting XI in what will be an intense period for clubs and individuals, meaning professionalism levels will need to be heightened to manage the number of games in a small space of time.

Garnacho, who turns 19 in July, will not be defined by what happens in the next six months of his career, but it will be another crucial learning exercise under Ten Hag. If a teenager’s attitude is the only thing to worry about, the linear nature of time should ensure Garnacho makes the most of his unquestionable talents.