- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A natural scorer. The best finisher at Manchester United. A future record breaker in the Premier League.

That’s just some of the praise that has been aimed at Mason Greenwood over the past few months - and he is still only 18.

So how does the Manchester United forward feel about all the plaudits coming his way?

“You’ve just got to be level-headed, really,” Greenwood said Tuesday. “You can’t let too much get to you.”

The latest step in the extraordinary rise of the teenage forward came last week when he was selected by England for the first time at senior level. Greenwood was at home with his father when he got the phone call from England coach Gareth Southgate to say he was being picked.

“I was over the moon,” Greenwood said from England’s training base in a rare appearance in front of the media.

“My dad is level-headed and it kept me down, really. He was just excited for me. My whole family was. It’s a dream come true.”

The reality is that Southgate just could not ignore him.

In his breakthrough year at United last season, Greenwood made 50 appearances and scored 18 goals. Up until the suspension of football in March, he was mainly used as a substitute in the Premier League and a starter in cup competitions but he was a first-choice regular from the resumption, deployed on the right of a front three.

In United’s last seven league games, Greenwood scored five goals and continues to show rare finishing ability with both his right and left foot. He is so two-footed that it is hard to know which is his stronger side - it is his left, just - while the technique and power behind his shots has sparked comparisons with Robin van Persie.

Repeatedly described by his manager at United, former striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as “one of the best finishers I’ve seen,” the praise went up a notch in July when Alan Shearer spoke glowingly about Greenwood.

“I think in 12 or 13 years’ time, we could be talking about the Premier League record goal scorer,” said Shearer, who is currently No. 1 with 260 goals.

Next on the list is Wayne Rooney, with 208, and the former United captain is also an admirer of Greenwood.

“He is a natural scorer, good with both feet, a taker of chances, calm in front of goal,” Rooney said in his column in The Sunday Times newspaper last week. “He is probably the best finisher at United already at the age of 18 and in goal scorers you can just see it from day one - Harry Kane and Michael Owen had the knack, and it’s the same with Greenwood.”

Given the blossoming of Greenwood and another Manchester-born talent, 20-year-old Man City midfielder Phil Foden, the coronavirus-induced postponement of the 2020 European Championship might be a blessing in disguise for England. When the tournament takes place in its rescheduled slot of the summer of 2021, the team is likely to have two potential generational talents to call upon.

“It’s good to see the young lads come through and push for places,” Greenwood said.

“I feel ready to compete with anyone really,” he added. “Like in the Premier League, just go out with a smile on your face and just playing football.”

Indeed, that’s the message Greenwood got from Southgate when he linked up with the England squad for the first time ahead of Nations League qualifiers against Iceland on Saturday and Denmark on Tuesday.

Inevitably, Greenwood was asked how excited he would be to share a pitch with Lionel Messi if the Argentina great ends up leaving Barcelona and signing for Manchester City, the team most heavily linked with him.

“It would be amazing to even come up against him because obviously all young footballers know about Messi,” Greenwood said, his eyes lighting up. “To be on the same pitch playing against him would be like another dream come true.”

Young footballers in England might soon be saying the same thing about Greenwood.


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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