SINGAPORE — A full-house National Stadium was bathed in a sea of red-shirted Manchester United fans, the overwhelming majority of a 52,897-strong turnout who saw the Red Devils eke out a 1-0 victory over Inter Milan in the International Champions Cup (ICC) pre-season tournament on Saturday (20 July).
The last time the stadium was sold out for a football match, fans witnessed a 22-year-old Neymar scoring all four goals for Brazil in a 4-0 win against Japan in a 2014 friendly.
This time around, another youngster declared himself as the one to watch among the upstarts at Man United – 17-year-old Mason Greenwood.
Not only did the forward score United’s only goal, but he showed enough quality during his half-hour outing that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already likened him to a United legend – Ryan Giggs.
Giggs broke into the United first team when he was 17, and Solskjaer feels that Greenwood is also ready to do the same. Which is why he is not going to send the teenager out on loan in the upcoming season.
“For me, he is ready to be in the squad,” the Norwegian said during the post-match media conference.
“He’s improving every day in training, and if you put in good performances like he does, then it is difficult to leave you out of the first team. But we also have to keep his feet on the ground, he’s only 17 and there are bound to be ups and downs in his development. But at the moment, he is enjoying his football.”
Greenwood’s 76th-minute winner proved to be the one moment of class in what was a lacklustre match, as United dominated possession but struggled to break down Inter’s resolute defence.
And while the crowd tried their hardest to make the Red Devils feel like they were back at their massive Old Trafford home ground, they also caused some consternation when they loudly booed veteran Ashley Young when he came on as a substitute, presumably because he had a less-than-stellar past season.
Solskjaer played down the jeers, saying, “Of course, we want our fans to support our players, and Ashley has been loyal to the club for many years. He’s a top professional who always gives everything, and we’ll keep on seeing him contribute for us.”
Young in fact contributed to Greenwood’s goal. His curling free-kick had Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic scrambling to punch away, and the ball dropped to an unmarked Greenwood.
The youngster showed immense composure to evade the challenge of Inter midfielder Joao Mario, before coolly curling the shot past Handanovic.
Besides Greenwood, new United signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka also impressed, the right-back – signed for an initial £45 million (S$73.8 million) from Crystal Palace – raiding down the flank with much intent and purpose during the first-half.
But Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, two United players frequently linked with moves out of the club, were subdued and ineffective as they tried in vain to find the penetrative passes in the final third of the field to break down Inter’s defence.
Inter were disappointing as well, offering little in terms of attack and eventually resorting to tough physical challenges that led to several yellow cards by referee Letchman Gopala Krishnan.
However, their head coach Antonio Conte refused to criticise their performance.
“They showed great commitment in overcoming the difficulties in the game, and I cannot find fault in that,” he said. “But obviously we have to keep working hard to improve during this pre-season.”