Erik ten Hag tried to talk about the build-up. There was the switch of play from Victor Lindelof to Marcus Rashford, the underlapping run of Diogo Dalot, the deep cross. And yet, whatever the involvement of others beforehand, strikes of extraordinary, spectacular individual virtuosity don’t tend to be remembered as team goals.
“The finish was incredible, fantastic,” Ten Hag said after the 3-0 victory at Everton. “Maybe already the goal of the season.”
Perhaps Alejandro Garnacho was still dumbstruck himself, the best part of two hours later, when he described it as “one of the best I have scored”. Maybe it was a teenager trying to express himself in a different language in front of the television cameras. Or maybe he genuinely has scored others of a similar calibre at lower level. If so, the search should be for any footage.
But it was astonishing. Facing away from the Everton goal, some 15 yards out, Garnacho connected with such power and precision that there was a temptation to anoint it Manchester United’s finest overhead kick. That mantle may have rested with Wayne Rooney’s 2011 effort against Manchester City, not least because it was a winner in a Manchester derby. The more pedantic could point out the current Birmingham manager actually shinned it.
Other comparisons could involve goals United greats scored in other shirts: Mark Hughes’ bicycle kick for Wales against Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo’s overhead kick for Real Madrid against Juventus.
And overhead kicks are sufficiently difficult that they can denote a rare talent. They are not solely the domain of the greats, but some of the best have been scored by Gareth Bale, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco van Basten, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Admittedly, others came courtesy of Emre Can, Trevor Sinclair, Rory Delap, Christian Benteke and Andy Carroll, who are rarely placed in the same bracket.
Nor, at the moment, is Garnacho. But the ability he has shown as a high-speed dribbler gives the impression he could end up among the elite. Bruno Fernandes, the captain who was an almost paternalistic presence by his side in a post-match interview, drew an important distinction.
“I have big expectations for him,” said the Portuguese. “He is not a great player yet but he has a great future ahead and we expect a lot from him. I am always going to be behind him asking for more, but an amazing goal.”
The lineage prompts the question of how good Garnacho could be. United’s teenage wingers over the years have included Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, George Best and Bobby Charlton. There are cautionary tales, too, such as Adnan Januzaj, the revelation of Giggs’ final season but who, at 28, has only played 69 minutes for Sevilla this season.
Alejandro Garnacho celebrates scoring his stunning opener (PA)
Then there is Garnacho: often an impact substitute, usually strangely ineffectual when he starts, a third-minute goal was a surprise in the timing as well as the execution. Many a young winger is embroiled in a search for consistency and productivity.
He is not alone, but he arrived at Goodison Park with one goal in 21 games and departed having scored what the battle-hardened home captain James Tarkowski called one of the best goals he had ever seen and which Sean Dyche, a manager with a similar aversion to getting carried away, branded “an absolute worldie”.
Ten Hag has overseen the emergence of young talent at Ajax. He has taken a hardline approach with Garnacho at times, dropping him on the pre-season tour in 2022 for being late. He sees what the Argentinian could achieve, contrasts it with what he has done so far and has opted not to liken United’s latest prodigy to Rooney or Ronaldo.
“Don’t compare, I don’t think it is right,” he said. “They all have their own identity but for Garnacho to go that way he has a lot to come, he has to work very hard. You have to do it on a consistent basis and so far he has not. But he definitely has high potential to do some amazing things. It’s not the first time we saw this, we have already often seen glimpses but if you want to be a player like Rooney or Ronaldo you have to score 20 [or] 25 goals in the Premier League each season. That’s not easy to get, you have to work hard, you have to go in areas where it hurts. So [there is] a lot to come. But potential, he has.”
Garnacho takes flight to give United the lead at Goodison (PA)
Potential can be exciting, tantalising, a promise that produces brilliance or something that goes unfulfilled. Over the last 18 months, it has been clear that Garnacho possesses plenty, but his goal at Everton was still stunning. It was a great goal. The challenge for him is to turn into a great, himself, too.