use the walls without the ball running away from me. I practiced passing and shooting on my own and yes, I think it helped me get better and better.
Do you think those days affected the sort of player you became?
It helped me. I got used to having the ball at my feet and having to try and keep it at my feet. When you play that style of enclosed small-sided stuff you feel the benefits when you go out and play on grass in bigger games because your control has improved and you benefit from having more space.
So how else does small-sided football benefit your game?
Small-sided games see you get the ball in much tighter situations and you need to be able to get yourself out of them. You are used to getting the ball and immediately being under pressure. Therefore, you learn how best to cope with that pressure. When the pitch opens up in 11-a-side games you seem to have all the space in the world. It definitely helped me, that’s for sure.
What specific skills can young people learn from small-sided games?
It’s great to master the game on concrete or astro-turf and if you can learn to control the ball and do tricks in small-sided games then once you come to a nice grass pitch you’ll find it easy. Playing in these small games and just working hard on skills, tricks, moves, will help massively in the long run. Everything I learnt came from those small matches. The tactical side of things comes later but 95 per cent of my game is from those days playing as a kid.
When you scored your famous goal for Everton against Arsenal in 2002 you were only a teenager and went home and had a kick-about with your mates. Do you remember much about that game back home?
Yes, we went and played in the garages nearby. We just practised our finishing all night. No one treated me any differently. A few congratulated me about the goal but otherwise no one really made a fuss.
Do you still get the temptation to get out and have a kick-about?
It’s harder now because at United we have so many games and rest is so important. I wouldn’t want to get injured either. I go in my garden as I have a