Axel Tuanzebe.

Exclusive: Tuanzebe on his fitness, goals & leadership

Axel Tuanzebe admits that injuries have become a frustrating part of his season so far, but the impressive Manchester United centre-back is growing stronger every day and he feels confident about making a big contribution to the team throughout the all-important run-in.

Academy graduate Tuanzebe returned to the club last summer after an excellent loan spell with Aston Villa and made an eye-catching start to the campaign, producing a series of commanding performances and captained the Reds in a Carabao Cup tie against Rochdale at Old Trafford. 

In recognition of his top form, Axel was selected to start in the important Premier League match against Liverpool back in October, until an injury sustained in the warm-up prevented him from playing. Since then, he has largely been absent and working hard on his rehabilitation. 

Thankfully, Tuanzebe is part of a United squad that has travelled to Spain for some warm-weather training in this winter break and he is edging closer to re-joining the group, hopefully later this week.

Here, in an exclusive interview conducted at the Marbella Training Centre, the 22-year-old provides a positive update on his progress and outlines his determination to return. He also offers praise for Harry Maguire’s appointment as club captain and discusses our new January signings…

Tuanzebe: I'll be back on the pitch soonVideo

Firstly, Axel, what kind of update can you give us on your fitness?
“Yeah, my training has been very good for the last couple of weeks. My physio, John Davin, has helped me a lot with my progression and tried to really optimise the time I've had to recover. It's been going really good, I'm a lot stronger now and soon to be back on the pitch with the lads again.”

 
How crucial are those backroom staff who are unseen to the public eye but play a massive role for you guys?
“Yeah, most definitely, all of them play little parts. But mostly I have been with John and we have had a good plan on how to get back onto the pitch, so it has just been about executing it right this time and hopefully having no set-backs to get back with the lads.”

 
You've been training away from the group this week, mainly with Scott McTominay and Tim Fosu-Mensah, and looking strong, so are you hoping to join in full training soon?
“I couldn't really put a timeframe on it, but yeah very soon. The training today went well and I just want to keep that vibe, that mentality and that work ethic. Scott and Tim are always great to train with, we always push each other, so we are putting in the hard work to get back as soon as possible.”
How frustrating has this period been for you? Because you started the season well, made appearances, captained the side and was due to start against Liverpool before getting the unfortunate injury...
“Yeah, this season has been a bit frustrating. There have been many opportunities that I could have exploited but it wasn't to be. Last season I played a lot of games on loan at Villa and I wanted to replicate that this season. There are still three competitions left that we can go for. I want to be heavily involved in that, help the side to win trophies and get into those Champions League places.”

 
Do you think the mental side of an injury is just as big as the physical side?
“Yeah, most definitely. Your approach to how you want to recover is definitely key. I am one of those guys who doesn't spend time off when I am injured. I want to get back onto it as soon as possible and try everything possible to get fit as soon as I can. The people around me, my family, have been a really big support in that, the physios here and all of the lads have been onto me as well, asking when I'm back. So it's good to have those messages and morale support to get you back onto the pitch.”

Tuanzebe and McTominay step it up in SpainVideo

Speaking of the lads, one of your fellow centre-backs Harry Maguire has been confirmed as our new club captain. What does that say about him after only six months at the club and. as a known captain in the youth ranks, do you feel you can learn from his leadership?
“Massive respect to him for getting the captaincy. For me, I don't think it is ever about how long you have been somewhere. It is the impact you give and the time you spend with the lads. He's had a massive impact on the club, he has been a real example and has managed to lead the team. We are improving. We are a young side and given time, I think we will be very strong and contending for real titles. But I just want to send massive congratulations to Harry, because I think he deserves it with the impact that he's given to the club.”

 
There's a storm going on in Manchester, but the conditions here are incredible. How important could this week be to the squad?
“First of all, I am glad that we have the break. I think it is always needed to have a break sometimes and just to enjoy some warm weather, which we don't get much in Manchester. Just to come out here is like a mini pre-season you might say, just to regroup, reset and go again for the last bit of the season.”

 
We have some new players to integrate and the highest profile is Bruno Fernandes. What have you made of him so far?
“Bruno has been a nice guy, very calm and collected, he has represented himself well in the short time he has been here, he is very respectful and I wish him a good career at Manchester United. I am very excited to see him on the pitch. I have obviously seen clips of him at Sporting and he seemed to be a very integral player for them. Hopefully he can be that for us as well.”
Nathan Bishop is at the other end of that scale and what a period this has been for him, coming from Southend to United...
“Bish has been cool. You know he is an English lad so there are obviously no language barriers there, so he has integrated well and is very professional. I think that shows from coming out of Southend and being in a professional first-team set-up for such a long time. He is demonstrating good qualities as a player and person. I think he will fit in fine with the group.”

 
Odion Ighalo has also joined and, while he's not here right now, he'll link up with the squad at the weekend. He's a big man - are you looking forward to that battle in training?
“Yeah, most definitely, because that is how you learn and that is how to improve. I remember my time at Villa. Me and Yannick Bolasie, in every training session we were at it! That is the only way you improve, when you have really honest people challenging every day. I am very excited to see what he brings to the table. I am sure he is strong and powerful. That can only develop me in finding ways to deal with that. I will be very grateful to have somebody like that on the team.”

United Daily: Hot topics from day three in SpainVideo

Looking ahead to the season run-in, what are you hoping to contribute individually to the rest of this campaign?
“A lot of things, but just to help the team grow really. I think we are a very young side, so just being a leader constantly, whether it be vocally or by example, and just help us to develop and grow as a team and obviously improve myself in the process.”
 
You have a good sense of the mood in the camp, so how determined is everybody to finish the season on a high and hopefully win a couple of trophies?
“Yeah, I think that is definitely the motive. For a young side to go out and win a cup can be a little spark that ignites something special. We work hard, we demonstrate a lot of potential, a lot of good play, we want to improve and that is what I have been saying from the start. It is only upwards for this group. If you want something to grow, it takes time. I think we have only been getting better throughout the season and I am very excited to see what is to come.”

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