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Almost a year has passed since Cristiano Ronaldo pressed self-destruct on his Manchester United career, walking away from Old Trafford to become the face of Saudi Arabia’s football revolution. But the iconic No 7’s influence has been forged in Erik ten Hag’s dressing room through one of his brightest young players.
Alejandro Garnacho has experienced things on a football pitch most players have ended their careers still dreaming of.
Aged 19, he has won silverware with Manchester United at Wembley Stadium and represented his country alongside arguably the greatest to ever do it, Lionel Messi.
But despite his compatriot’s lofty status, Cristiano Ronaldo – who admittedly sits in the same conversation – is the figure Garnacho seemingly idolises the most in the early stages of his career.
Garnacho broke into Ten Hag’s senior set-up on a full-time basis last season but was training alongside Ronaldo even earlier after the 38-year-old’s memorable 2021 return.
And his impact looks to have stayed with Garnacho beyond his second stint at United, regularly featuring on the exciting winger’s social media.
The Red Devils No 17 has been spotted wearing Ronaldo’s Al Nassr shirt in one video and has regularly mentioned him in posts and stories on his Instagram.
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Garnacho’s tributes have extended onto the pitch, too, most recently after his first goal of the season against Crystal Palace on Tuesday.
He opened the scoring in the first half, sending United on their way to a comfortable 3-0 win at Old Trafford to book a place in the Carabao Cup fourth round.
And in jubilation after his strike, Garnacho wheeled away towards Old Trafford’s north-south quadrant, pointing at himself and the floor, reminiscent of the build-up to Ronaldo’s infamous ‘Siu’ celebration.
He opted for an air punch rather than the Portuguese great’s finishing move, but the influence the latter has on his career remains clear as day.
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Garnacho was widely tipped to inherit the No 7 shirt this season after it was vacant since Ronaldo’s explosive departure last November.
But Ten Hag instead offered it to £60million signing Mason Mount, a surprising successor to many given the number has traditionally been donned by wingers at United.
Garnacho has upgraded from the No 49 to the next best thing, 17, as he continues his development under Ten Hag’s regime.
He earned just his third start of the season in the Palace triumph but impressed and is in contention to keep his place for Saturday’s rematch in the Premier League.
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