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PRO INSIGHT SERIES: My experience at Manchester United

I signed for Manchester United at 8 years old.

I remember the car journey back home from The Cliff in Salford when my dad broke the news ‘United want to sign you’, my boyhood club, the biggest one in the world wanted to sign me in the Academy. I was over the moon as you would be! They chose 18 players to join at Under8’s from the hundreds of kids they’d invited to come and trial for months leading up to the big decision. I remember mainly all the players having a ball at their feet with just a cone in front, performing Coerver style skills and tricks, both feet, fast as you could, showing what you can do, and loads of small-sided games. I didn’t realise it was a trial at the time, when really the coaches were walking the indoor Astro, watching each individual and seeing who caught their eye. I just used to love having a ball at my feet and challenging myself to do these set skills as fast as I possibly could like I was on a big stage, and thankfully I was picked.

For years we’d train 3 or 4 times a week between The Cliff and Littleton Road, constantly reminded about the successful players that had trained in these facilities before us and how they were in once in our position. From the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton to Cantona and Ryan Giggs it was motivating yet intimidating at the same time.

Wearing the red shirt on a match day definitely felt pretty heavy at times.

When you get to U12 (if you’re still there) you’re fortunate enough to then be based at Carrington, where both the Academy and First Team are based. The facilities are the best in the world. You’d enter the building and walk down the corridor past pictures of all the successful Academy graduates on both sides of the walls. Again, extremely motivating and intimidating constantly asking myself 'surely I couldn’t be the next one could I?'

You’d drop your gear in your numbered changies, carry your boots to the indoor Astro and find yourself in an indoor full-size pitch ready to train.

An unforgettable memory from my time there was on a random Sunday morning. I was injured so the club physio used to take us over to the first team gym at times for some rehab. The first team must have played on the Saturday, little did I know, they were all there.

Door opened and it was one of those moments where you don’t know where to look. All my idols in one room. I remember seeing Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson having a laugh together & Scholes, Rooney and Ferdinand. Unreal!

U16 is the big deal breaker. You either get a full-time School-boy Scholarship or you get released. As brutal as that. I went in the meeting with both my mum and dad and came out gutted. United legend Brian Mclair took the meeting and I remember the words ‘we think it's best you move on.’

United could now sign players globally, and they bought in Adnan Januzaj and Timothy Fosu-Mensa from abroad who went on to play for the first team, so fair enough!

I had some great coaches who had a big influence on me as a kid, and I was brought up through the system constantly taught to respect others, that hard work will always beat talent & to compete. I think this upbringing has got me where I am today and I’m grateful for the experience.

I’m fortunate enough to still be full time in the game at 28, on the other side of the world and not in the Premier League as I’d dreamed, but still playing at a decent level and coaching the next generation of Kiwi players, passing on some of the key things I learnt at such a big club.

Out of the 18, six players went on to become Pro’s at a top level, a third… a pretty good rate.

Current Pro’s that were in my age group:

Joe Rothwell – Bournemouth FC

Ben Pearson – Bournemouth FC

Paddy McNair – Middlesborough FC

Kenji Gorre – Boavista FC

James Weir – MTK Budapest

Donald Love – Morecambe FC

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