Argentine street soccer player? Alejandro Garnacho was a model student from a leafy Spanish suburb

Alejandro Garnacho flanked by his aunt and cousin Hugo Alonso Garnacho – Hugo Alonso Garnacho

At Colegio Arenales, a new school for 1,400 students in the Madrid town of Arroyomolinos, they could have waited years for their first famous student, and yet he was there in their first group of six-year-olds when they opened their doors. in 2010.

That was Alejandro Garnacho Ferreyra, the Manchester United teenager who is now blazing a trail in the Premier League. The most exciting talent in a United team of fluctuating fortunes. Former teammate of his hero Cristiano Ronaldo and now forever partner of another name, Lionel Messi. Garnacho is, at 19, an Argentine international and Premier League star. And more importantly for United, the great hope of a club that needs that bravery of youth, a trademark of United in many periods of its history.

It all started here in Arroyomolinos, an hour’s drive from the center of Madrid, in the countryside south of the city. Garnacho represents Argentina, where his mother, Patricia Ferreyra Fernández, is from. But he was born in Spain and trained as a footballer in Arroyomolinos, first in the city, then at the nearest big professional club, Getafe, before Atlético Madrid acquired him. At 16, he rose to the top of the food chain (certainly in terms of history and wealth) when he signed for United.

A dizzying rise, and his overhead kick goal against Everton in November suggested something else. He was a player with considerable personality and the necessary talent. Winner of the FA Youth Cup with United in 2022, after making his first-team debut in April of that year, it is now difficult to imagine Erik ten Hag’s team without Garnacho. He has that competitive advantage that some see as a reflection of a certain Argentine archetype. “Chulo”, or “chulito”, is the word that is heard and the inference in the context is “cocky”.

Garnacho wrote himself into Premier League folklore by scoring with this stunning overhead kick against Everton.Garnacho wrote himself into Premier League folklore by scoring with this stunning overhead kick against Everton.

Garnacho entered Premier League folklore by scoring with this impressive overhead kick against Everton – AP/Jon Super

Gabriel Sandin smiles at the mention of this, but politely points out that this is not how young Alejandro is remembered at school. “What a good boy,” he says. “He was a good boy. “He always did his homework!” In 2010, Sandin was 22 years old and just on his second teaching job when he opened Arenales. It is a stunning school: spacious, clean, modern and designed to make the most of the views of the city from its position on a hill and the sunlight streaming in through large windows. Alejandro was in Sandin’s first class. “Very outgoing, very dedicated, very good among his colleagues,” says Sandin. “He was with us until he was 13 years old. He had good grades.”

The school is eager to address what staff consider a certain misconception about its most famous son: the notion that he was a rake. In fact, there is great affection for Alejandro and his younger brother Roberto, who were at the school until Atlético came on the scene and, eventually, the Garnacho Ferreyra family moved to Manchester. We walk through the building and Sandin introduces us to all of his colleagues who taught Alejandro. The pride of a young staff in a friendly school is touching.

“Excellent handwriting,” recalls Esther Martin, 45, who took the United prodigy to arts and crafts classes. “Such a friendly guy. Always raising his hand in class. His friends loved him, especially in the playground, where he was always very happy playing soccer. You could always tell he was a great player. “Everyone wanted to play football with him.”

His physical education teacher, Israel Moreno, 34, stops to chat. “That overhead kick against Everton?” he says, nodding toward the field at the back of the school. “I’ve seen him do that before. He took the game very seriously every time he played. And he was a great example for his younger brother: Roberto really admired him.”

“I met his mother a couple of months ago,” says Ángel Ramos, 36, who taught Alejandro social studies, in addition to what he describes as “basic English,” which has now developed to the point of that the teenager can lead live after Coincidence with television interviews. “I told him how proud we are of him. He only left here six years ago and he was already in the Premier League.”

“Such a strong boy. He would get hurt and insist that he keep playing.” That’s school nurse Raquel Carbone, 47, who joins us in her white medical coat fresh from the school nurse’s office. “A strong kid with a strong character and he liked to help others.”

Colegio Arenales school staffColegio Arenales school staff

The staff of Colegio Arenales – (LR) Gabriel Sandin, Esther Martin, Raquel Carbone and Israel Moreno – are intensely proud of their former student, Alejandro Garnacho – Margaret Stepien

The Arenales School football fieldThe Arenales School football field

The Arenales School football field where Garnacho’s physical education teacher, Moreno, says he saw the young man score kicks like the one he scored against Everton – Margaret Stepien

It is an academic school, part of a network across Europe and beyond established by a Catholic charity, and has no particular specialization in football. The staff is a little bewildered as to how such a talented footballer has emerged so early in Arenales’ history, but also delighted.

“We have talked about this image that has been portrayed of him,” says Sandin. “Maybe he came from a bad neighborhood, or there was something negative. The truth is that he was a very good student.”

Arroyomolinos, everyone will agree, is a town that has gone through a construction boom. The houses, the schools, the roads… they all look new. In the playground of an elementary school on the other side of town, Hugo Alonso Garnacho coaches four enthusiastic children who fight for possession in his after-school soccer club. Hugo is Alejandro’s cousin; His mother is the sister of Alejandro’s father, Alex. Hugo has been to Manchester to watch Alejandro play with the under-23s and, more recently, to Old Trafford with the first team. He shows us photos on his phone of him and his cousin celebrating the then-imminent arrival of Alejandro’s son, Enzo.

Alejandro Garnach celebrates the imminent arrival of his son Enzo with friends and his cousin Hugo (far right)Alejandro Garnach celebrates the imminent arrival of his son Enzo with friends and his cousin Hugo (far right)

Alejandro Garnach celebrates the imminent arrival of his son Enzo with friends and his cousin Hugo (far right) – Hugo Alonso Garnacho

Hugo is a month older than his famous cousin and speaks good English. “I played with him as a kid and I played against him, and I preferred playing with him,” he says. “Literally the job of everyone who played with Alejandro was to pass him the ball and he did the rest. I’m not exaggerating, you can ask anyone his age. After a couple of years, Getafe had seen him and he was playing in their academy.”

Alejandro represented Spain as a teenager but chose Argentina when he received the offer to play in his mother’s native country. However, Arroyomolinos is home and returns often.

Hugo is also confused by his cousin’s portrayal as some kind of street fighter. “He lived here his entire childhood,” he says. “I read something about him being from a poor family, but I can tell you that I am part of that family and it is just a normal family. Neither poor nor rich, just a normal family.”

Hugo Alonso Garnacho with a soccer ball under his armHugo Alonso Garnacho with a soccer ball under his arm

Soccer coach Hugo Alonso Garnacho questions the depiction of his cousin Alejandro as a street fighter – Margaret Stepien

Hugo, who is studying law at university, says another local contemporary of his cousin is David Jiménez, who currently plays for Real Madrid C, the club’s newly reformed third team. Hugo points us in the direction of the local soccer stadium and the Arroyomolinos Municipal Sports Club where we meet general director Jonatan García, 39 years old.

In local clubs like this it is not difficult to see why Spain has become one of the great powers in world football. It is funded by the local authority, with 875 children playing in 44 boys’ and four girls’ teams, and professionally managed. The shelves are full of trophies and also boxes with the players’ inscriptions.

It was also Alejandro’s first club. Jonatan produces a photo of the team with the prodigy in the front row and a lock of blonde hair cut just above his eyes. “Friendly kid and very team-oriented,” says García. “You could see from the beginning the power he had, but also the dedication. He had potential, but he was also very competitive.”

Garnacho (far left in the front row) lines up with his first team, Club Deportivo Municipal ArroyomolinosGarnacho (far left in the front row) lines up with his first team, Club Deportivo Municipal Arroyomolinos

Garnacho (far left in the front row) lines up with his first team, Club Deportivo Municipal Arroyomolinos

Behind García, on the wall, there are pennants of Real Madrid, Atlético, Barcelona and Sevilla. Do they come often? He nods. A Real representative had been in his office the day before to invite one of his youth players to play with his subsidiary. But that’s all part of the job: a great mass participation club serving its community that also produces outstanding young prospects for Spain’s biggest clubs.

García himself was at Atlético when he was a child, although it was a difficult generation to achieve. His contemporaries, who would forge professional careers at Real and Barcelona, ​​would win the World Cup for Spain.

As for Alejandro, the town’s great prodigy, there are already red United shirts with his name and the number 17 among the little children who go out to play in Arroyomolinos.

At only 19 years old, and representing United and Argentina, the man must feel very far from this city beyond the suburbs of Madrid, but here everyone says the same thing: he is the hero of his hometown.

“If you want to be the best,” shrugs his cousin Hugo, “you have to go play with the best.”

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