With its unbearable heat in the day and spine-chillingly low temperatures of the night, the desert is somewhere little survive, let alone want to be. In the main, the only things that survive there are those that are simply there to function. Anything of conventional beauty is unable to grow except for those moments of oases, where you can find sustenance and beauty in equal measure. Lonely travellers often hallucinate seeing them when walking those huge expanses of deserted terrain. But, they are fleeting. You’re just not likely to find a flower in the desert.
The career of Alejandro Garnacho so far is akin to him being in the extremes of the desert given the environment that Manchester United has been for the past 10 years. Last season, his arrival in the team was similar to a fleeting oasis. At that moment of time, a stand-off was brewing between the manager of Man Utd and one of its dearest legends, in Erik ten Hag and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Anthony Martial was perpetually injured and was in the middle of his third of that season, Jadon Sancho’s first absence from the team had just begun, Antony would not see another goal until January after his initial flurry, Bruno Fernandes was not notching on the goalscoring chart as he had been in seasons prior. Nor was Marcus Rashford, before he got into that stunning vein of form that was the bedrock of the Red Devils’ success last season.
All in all, United were in dire need of a spark. It came from the Argentine Madrileans. In the last 3 weeks before the World Cup break, he got the winner against Real Sociedad and Fulham, the latter a last-gasp winner. Assists against Aston Villa that gave us the breathing space to get through the third round of the League Cup.
From then on, Garnacho would continually make a difference. Whether it was off the bench against Man City to assist the winner or get the second to confirm victory against close rivals, Leeds. Even if he didn’t register an assist or goal, he was still making an impact such cup final loss against our closest rivals, Man City. Things had become better from the time when he was first introduced but he was still so often the spark.
It was keenly felt when he had that injury that would keep him out for 2 months in the latter stages of the season. Ten Hag seldom had the resources on the bench to change games when he was unable to rely on Garnacho. This was all at the age of 18. It was his first season with the first team.
Now it is his second season and that spark is gone. The little spark the team had without him was not shining and even he, the bolt from the bench, was not looking like he was before. It was expected because teenagers regularly suffer from second-season syndrome. More worryingly, it was expected because the glare of the light from Man Utd shines so bright and the heat is so much from wearing the dark red shirt, that it is unbearable for many to cope with.
Even for those with superior experience. Even while 10 in the same red run around with you, it can be as lonely as a solitude in the desert. Against Luton Town, and plenty of games before it, as you watched on, you could see those same signs from Alejandro Garnacho that the eco-system of United was inhibiting his ability.
Boil down the game of Garnacho and should there be much concern? As a 19-year-old fledgling winger, there are bound to be ups and downs. The type he is, where he uses his pace and aggression to get past his marker more than anything else, he will find little joy when he comes up against opponents more athletic than he is. He does not do much in terms of the subtlety of being a winger. He is more of throwback.
His main concern is getting past his marker and being able to put a cross or shot in that will test the defence and the keeper. This is coming from a right-footed player who plies his trade on the left. It strikes up an interesting dynamic where in order to play on his dominant foot, he has to look to beat his winger on the inside before directing himself back to the byline with his dribbling.
However, a lot of the good work he has done comes when he does run towards the line on his left. The assist to Rashford for the derby winner came as he faked going on his right and delivered on his left after a fortunate bounce brought it back to him. The first of Scott McTominay’s quick double came from Garnacho taking it to the line.
The goal against Fulham came courtesy of a 1-2 with Christian Eriksen that again was him running towards to the byline, rather than inside. His goal against Real Sociedad, again running towards the byline. Even the effort that was chalked off against Arsenal for offside was also the result of him running in behind onto a through ball.
This conundrum presents a funnier issue in that if there is one thing that the former Atletico Madrid academy player needs to work on is his ball striking. The fact that he is constantly going to look to cut in, means that one of his best attributes should be the fact that he is either going to cross or whip a shot with his instep. However, oftentimes, it leaves a lot to be desired when the result transpires. The connection is either under or overcooked.
The keeper is hardly ever tested as much as he should be when he gets into the position to let off a threatening shot. Seldom does he have the effect that he did so in the dying embers of West Ham in the FA Cup last season or the majestic overhead effort that opened the scoring at Everton this season. So here lies a winger who has shown efficacy in getting to the byline and producing, struggles when he has to come into bodies, and does not have the greatest ball-striking ability yet is often played on the left?
When you consider the composition of Man Utd’s squad in general, you wonder even further why Garnacho has not been played on the right. This is not just an occurrence that happens when he starts the game. Even when he comes on to add impact, Rashford, the more senior player, has to go over to the right-hand side because the manager would think that the Argentine youngster needs to be on the left in order to bring something positive to the game.
He isn’t bringing that in this season and perhaps a change to the right might coax something more out of him. Something we finally saw against Aston Villa in the comeback victory on Boxing Day. It was everything that could be imagined from what he would do out there – he was direct, he was able to get to the touchline, he was a constant threat on the ball, and he was able to combine effectively with combinations.
The offside goal is exactly what is great about him playing on the right. He had more options than having to strike the ball with his instep. He went around the keeper and was able to finish on his strongest foot. So, for as much as the kid has had problems, one thing that he will always have in spades is an unerring confidence in his ability.
It can sometimes spill over into the petulance, as can often be the case for teenagers. Things such as shushing the crowd when 10-man United went a goal up against Copenhagen, a game that they would eventually lose, are examples of both. His initial progression into the team was fraught with self-made obstacles as well.
He was unable to take part in pre-season during Ten’s Hag inaugural season owing to the fact that he was late more than once to training and dinners. If there is a thing that has been clear since the Dutchman came, tardiness is one thing that won’t be tolerated.
He would be essentially banished from the team and if not for the work of people at the club and the hard work of Garnacho himself, he might not have been able to get back into the team. The stories of Noa Lang, Sancho and Ronaldo show that Ten Hag is not one to suffer fools in any sense so for a just-turned 18-year-old to work his way into a team, even if it was struggling and without many options, is a testament to the kid himself.
Much like the Lord though, his attitude giveth and taketh away in equal measure when it comes to how it stands him in good stead. The taketh perhaps won’t burden him as much as long as it doesn’t seep into bad habits of application on the training pitch and outside of the game of football.
By: Elijah Sofoluke / @AliquamScripto
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Marc Atkins / Getty Images