Axel: I am coming of age
On his 21st birthday, Axel Tuanzebe spoke exclusively to us about how he is currently faring on loan at Aston Villa.
The cultured centre-back, who is impressing in his second spell at Villa Park, discussed a range of topics including his relationship with team-mate turned coach, John Terry, the growing partnership with former United man, James Chester, his personal ambition for 2018/19 and how often he and his parent club are in touch regarding his progress.
Your form has been superb for Villa – how much are you enjoying playing at the heart of the defence for new boss Dean Smith?
"The new manager and his team have been great with me, they have shown faith in me by giving me the opportunity to play in such a disciplined position. So I am really thankful because I feel like I am improving under his guidance. We want to keep the form and high energy going!"
How much of an influence has John Terry been since he came back as coach?
"I have a good relationship with John. He helps me a lot every day and continuously gives me pointers on how to improve my game. He is always available for when I need him and offers himself to help me and the team. It's great to have him back!"
You’ve turned 21 today – does it feel like a landmark birthday for you and a sign you’re moving on from being classed as a ‘youngster’, particularly as you’re playing regularly in the Championship?
"Yes, 21 is always a special birthday as it signifies the beginning of adulthood so I am thankful to God for another year. I think consistently playing elevates me from the youngster connotation so I want to continue doing well for Aston Villa and showing everyone that I am not the young boy they think I am."
You're one of the youngest members of the Villa side but have always had great maturity. As it’s your second spell, do you feel established now?
"To be honest, I just try and be myself and people will make a judgement on what they see. Being my second spell, it has been easier progress. I just want to continuously impact the team positively."
You’re playing alongside a former Red in James Chester – what is he like as a colleague?
"I am sure everyone who has played with James Chester can only say he is a good person. As a captain, he is there when you need him and those characteristics show whilst we are on the pitch. I help him and he helps me. I am feeling a strong partnership forming."
The Aston Villa fans have really taken to you and you even have your own chant – what do you make of it?
"The chant is great and it's amazing to receive such great vibes and energy from the fans whilst playing. It urges me to continue pushing and fighting till the end!
Are Villa the perfect club, given its size and level of support, to prepare you for hopefully playing regularly for United?
Villa is an amazing club filled with amazing people so, for me, the journey has been positive. I feel like it will only improve and hopefully lead me back to Manchester, where I will want to play week in and week out.
What are the aims for this season – personally and for the club?
"The obvious one is promotion. We have started slower than we intended but things are starting to piece together. The next period of games leading into Christmas are crucial and we want to win all of them! Personally, I want to win Player of the Year for Villa but the main target is based on the team. I think we owe it to the fans!"
"United are always there when I need help or anything. We have regular contact and I always get feedback on my games. I means a lot to me because it shows they care about me and are very interested in my development!" Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.