Profiling the exciting Manchester United prospect
Who is Alejandro Garnacho?
If you set foot in Old Trafford in the years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, Manchester United fans didn’t have much to sing about. Now under Erik ten Hag things have changed, the terraces are alive and in full voice.
This is the atmosphere that Alejandro Garnacho has been greeted with in his maiden campaign with United. He may be young, but he’s made an immediate impact and already been awarded one of the many songs the fans sing week in and week out – ‘Viva Garnacho’.
Alejandro Garnacho Ferreyra was born in Madrid to a Spanish father and an Argentinian mother; he would declare for the latter’s country when he chose to represent on international level.
Garnacho began his youth career at Getafe, where he remained until 2015. It was there that he caught the eye of Atlético Madrid scouts who would bring him back to the capital to be part of their developmental squad.
He spent five of his formative years with Los Colchoneros and his form during that half-decade caught the eye of Europe’s top clubs, including Borussia Dortmund and Atleti’s fierce city rivals Real Madrid. United would eventually win the race however, paying €500,000 to bring the winger to Manchester.
Garnacho was one of a number of young players brought in that summer by United: Hannibal Mejbri, Marc Jurado, Willy Kambala, Álvaro Fernández and more were added, all of whom were highly-touted prospects in their respective youth academies.
Of that crop it seems like Garnacho is the standout, although Amad Diallo may give him a run for his money when he returns from Sunderland. After a few years in the Under-18s, he won the FA Youth Cup in a campaign that saw him score seven in six, including a fantastic solo goal in the final.
He also capped off the 2021/22 season with a senior debut, coming on against Chelsea at Old Trafford under interim manager Ralf Rangnick, and winning the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award. But 2022/23 has been his breakout campaign.
Erik ten Hag has taken a liking to the young Argentinian and fully integrated him into the first team squad. He is mainly deployed on the left hand side though he has played a few minutes on the right when needed.
Garnacho scored his first senior goal against Real Sociedad in the Europa League and then followed that up just before the World Cup with a last-minute winner against Fulham. The latter quickly endeared him to the United faithful.
Now he will be hoping to become a regular starter for United, rising above the likes of Jadon Sancho and even Marcus Rashford in the pecking order – but what skillset does he bring to the table for Ten Hag to consider?
Alejandro Garnacho's style of play
One of Garnacho’s standout traits that’s immediately obvious when you watch him is his close control. At times, the ball seems like it’s stuck to his foot as he looks to ghost past his defender, either inside or outside.
This close control also allows him to change direction in an instant. It enables him to run down the line and draw in the opposition defender, before quickly pivoting his body to play the ball back to Luke Shaw, who now has an abundance of space to work in.
This ability to break down low blocks is something United have been missing in previous seasons and, though he is young, Garnacho at least offers part of the solution.
However, if Garnacho’s close control is the key that unlocks a number of doors, he needs to improve how he decides which one to go through. His decision-making is where his inexperience really shows, often wanting to prove himself and beat a man instead of playing in an easy pass.
While watching him at youth level, it was clear that his dribbling ability allowed him to overcome a large proportion of his opposition, but since stepping up to the Premier League, he needs to learn that not every defender can or sometimes needs to be beaten.
There have been a number of instances this season where a simple pass into the box would have created a decent goal-scoring opportunity for United, especially when Marcus Rashford was upfront. Instead Garnacho went for a longer dribble, or even took a shot from a difficult angle.
This is something that will come with time however, as he gains experience at the top level. Something that will hopefully also develop over the coming years is his physicality.
Against Leeds United at Old Trafford, it was clear that this was an issue for Garnacho. Luke Ayling caused him a number of problems by forcing him off the ball as he imposed himself physically. This allowed the veteran defender to make up for his lack of pace compared to the 18-year-old.
Either the winger has to bulk up to deal with the physical challenges he will face throughout his career or take the other avenue of learning to angle his body correctly so that, when a defender comes in to wrestle him off the ball, he can win a foul for his team. Probably both.
When given the space to run in behind, however, Garnacho has the speed and dynamism to avoid these battles altogether. He has an explosive burst of pace and the timing of his runs resemble that of a much more experienced attacker.
His goal against Real Sociedad characterised this as he saw the opportunity to play on the shoulder and leave his man for dead to run onto a pass. Justin Cochrane, United’s former Head of Player Development and Coaching, also observed this during his time coaching Garnacho and spoke about it with an interview with Training Ground Guru:
This lesson was key to his strike against Sociedad. His goals so far have been varied and the way he has struck the ball for these finishes early in his career bodes well for the future, but it is still early to tell whether this can be considered one his main strengths. Though if he continues to work on his existing weapons, better shooting opportunities will open up for him.
Forecasting Alejandro Garnacho's future
With a new long-term contract extension all but signed at Manchester United, Alejandro Garnacho has the potential to become one of the most devastating attackers in the Premier League.
It’s clear that Ten Hag trusts him and appreciates his potential, as evidenced by trying to integrate him into the side at every opportunity even at his young age.
And the manager has been rewarded with a number of magic moments. His goal in the FA Youth Cup final showed how he could create a goal from nothing before he made his first team bow, but he has shown with strikes against Fulham and Leeds and his assist against Manchester City that he can replicate this x-factor on the biggest stage.
Most of his current issues are coachable; he has the technical ability in spades but just needs to make the right decisions and grow into himself. Under an elite coach like Ten Hag, there is a good chance he will do this.
Like his idol Cristiano Ronaldo, there is still the likelihood that he will choose to go on his own way, but the hope is that if technical level continues to rise, this will allow him to be effective even when he makes a less optimal decision on paper.
There is also the consideration that the landscape at United could change thanks to a takeover. Currently Garnacho’s main competition on the left wing is Rashford and Sancho, but if the new owners decided to invest heavily or, absurdly, part ways with Ten Hag, then the development of the Argentinian winger could seriously change.
Overall, United’s strategy to focus on youth recruitment over the past few years has paid off as they have found a diamond in the rough. It’s now up to the management and the rest of the team to help polish it.
Alejandro Garnacho is a devastating threat in transition with his straight-line speed, darting runs and cut-throat mentality. He’s also a talented dribbler in one-v-one situations equipped with a mix of technique and burst.
Alejandro Garnacho’s primary weaknesses right now are decision-making and physicality, both attributes which should develop with coaching and experience.