Football News

Man Utd rising star Kobbie Mainoo plays like Clarence Seedorf, says Wes Brown

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:40, 13 March 2024

Former Manchester United defender Wes Brown has likened young midfielder Kobbie Mainoo to AC Milan and Netherlands legend Clarence Seedorf.

Mainoo has been the story of the season for Man Utd so far in what has been a tough campaign. There are even calls for Gareth Southgate to take Mainoo to the European Championships this summer, and he’s reportedly set for a new £60,000-a-week contract.

There is often a reluctance to make direct comparisons between young players and past greats, but sometimes it’s hard not to — if only drawing parallels between playing styles rather than overall ability. At the weekend, Wayne Rooney likened Mainoo to former Manchester United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and another legendary midfielder has now been mentioned.

Asked if Mainoo reminds him of anyone he played with or against during his career, Brown told Squawka: “Do you know what? He does. I watched him, obviously at the youth team, but I have been watching him. [He’s] very calm and I know there’s a lot talked about him. But to me, I think he plays like Clarence Seedorf.

“Even the way he runs, the way he takes the ball, shields the ball. I played against Clarence a few times and he was absolutely quality, big, strong, did his job perfectly and had the calmness as well to play for a big team, in big games. I would say Clarence Seedorf.”

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The Red Devils are currently sixth in the Premier League, eight points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa in the race for Champions League football.

Erik ten Hag’s side have lost 11 times in the league this season, already more than their nine defeats in 2022/23. But there are glimmers of hope. After a slow start to life in the Premier League, Rasmus Hojlund has started firing, netting seven goals in his past six games, and we have seen the emergence of Mainoo. The 18-year-old made his debut in January last year, starting in the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup as Man Utd beat Charlton 3-0, and went on to make substitute appearances in the Premier League and FA Cup.

Watching those three matches, no one could have predicted the role Mainoo would have this season. After starting home and away against FC Copenhagen in the Champions League, Mainoo made his first Premier League start towards the end of November 2023, as Man Utd were struggling with injuries. Mainoo was named Man of the Match for that game, and hasn’t really looked back since.

The teenager has started 14 of Man Utd’s last 16 games in the Premier League, only missing the win against Chelsea and draw with Bournemouth. Usually playing at the base of the Man Utd midfield instead of, or alongside, Casemiro, Mainoo has averaged 1.94 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League so far. He has also made 1.78 clearances per 90, won 2.1 possessions in the middle third per 90 and has a pass accuracy of 85.21%. Against Everton at the weekend, Mainoo played in a more advanced role, finding himself closer to the opposition box than he has been used to. Although he wasn’t perfect, Mainoo performed admirably and it was another string in the bow of a player with a bright future ahead of him.

Brown isn’t the only ex-Man Utd player to have likened Mainoo to Seedorf, who won the Champions League four times with three clubs during his career along with five league titles in Europe and the Club World Cup.

“I’m not saying he’s of the same ability, or that he’s that player yet, but he gives me vibes of Clarence Seedorf,” Rio Ferdinand told TNT Sports after Mainoo’s winner against Wolves last month.

“The way he manoeuvres in tight situations and the way he manipulates this ball and uses his body at times.

“He shifts it, pops it through [Max] Kilman’s legs – beautiful. He’s elusive at times as well and the control and the awareness to pick his spot. Some players see the headlines there and the back pages and think ‘I’m going to go for it’. But he just caresses it.”

This isn’t a comparison made lightly either. It’s clear how highly regarded Seedorf is in Ferdinand’s eyes, naming the midfielder in his all-time Champions League XI two years ago.

“Clarence Seedorf for me is the most underrated player in the Champions League,” he told then-BT Sport.

“This guy won four Champions Leagues, with three different teams. He was unreal, seriously. Off both feet, he was quick, he was strong, he could turn the pace up of a game when needed, in tight areas would receive it off both feet, balance unreal.

“He was like a ballerina in there. He just did things that you thought, ‘how was that possible?’ But he never got the superstardom kind of vibes of some other players. We played against him when he was at Milan, and he was coming to the end of his career there.

“And you still think to yourself, ‘This guy, how good must he have been when he was at Ajax?’ Lifting that as a teenager and the early years at Real Madrid.

“He was a phenomenal player, seriously. You couldn’t get near him.”

Most under-rated Premier League centre-back?

There’s always a lot of conversation about the best centre-backs in the Premier League, and Brown has experience of playing with some of the top defenders in the history of the competition. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jaap Stam and Laurent Blanc are just the pick of the centre-backs to have lined up alongside Brown during his Man Utd career, while he also played alongside the likes of John Terry, Martin Keown and Jamie Carragher for England.

But all of those players got their flowers during their playing careers, or at least after. What about one that hasn’t been given their dues just yet? When asked about a potentially underrated centre-back, Brown opted to praise Man City defender John Stones, for the way he has adapted his game of late with a new midfield role under Pep Guardiola.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say Stones was underrated but I really like the way he can change position,” he said.

“If anything, it’s the future of centre back in a way, the way you can adapt to moving up very – not bravely – but very cleverly, and just getting in into midfield and striking positions at times where, you know, teams actually don’t know what to do with him because he’s in like an extra player in there. So I say Stones.”

Wes Brown was speaking to Squawka on behalf of