Tuanzebe: The Red from Rochdale
Manchester United face Rochdale in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night, and, for Axel Tuanzebe, the game will have an extra dimension.
The 21-year-old defender, who has featured for the Reds in the Premier League and Europa League this term, grew up in the Lancashire town and played for his school team there, before moving on to United.
Tuanzebe, who will be eager to make his mark against our League One opponents, revealed to United Review, that, while some of his classmates at school were off supporting our upcoming visitors, there was only one team for him.
"I’d say it was a tight neighbourhood, especially where I was anyway," he told us. "It was just a big group of friends and we came together and loved to play football. It was a friendly neighbourhood, with positive vibes, and I only have good memories of Rochdale.
“A couple of lads in my school team were Rochdale fans, who would go to the stadium and watch games. I was always more into United so that was my focus – playing for the club, I always wanted to follow our progress.”
While Axel may never have pulled on a Rochdale shirt in a professional capacity, he does have an association with the club. His older brother Dimitri, two years his senior, was on Dale's books as a youngster.
"He actually played at Rochdale until the youth team. He grew up in the system. I remember we both went on trial and I ended up coming to United. It was a different environment and it was funny as he’d have stories we’d share, with him being older. Obviously, it was a heads-up on what to expect with Rochdale being a lower-league team. It was more brutal an upbringing in a tougher environment.
“He’d tell me some stories about the running sessions and gym sessions and they were pretty funny, to be fair.”
Axel's physicality and versatility in defence has seen him win plenty of plaudits following his 18-month loan spell at Aston Villa. The defender explained, however, that it was his time in the park with his brother that saw him start to learn the tools of the defensive trade.
"It was so competitive," he said. "You had to win or it would ruin your day. It was like ‘smash’! If you can handle it, go in. If you can’t, sit it out. That’s just how it was. It wasn’t an easy environment.
“I think it all comes down to those days in the park, being with the older people. You kind of need to learn to keep up or grow up fast to maintain that level. I think, when I came here and started playing, mentally, I always felt older. I wanted to accelerate my progression.”
You can read the full interview with Axel in Wednesday's United Review for our Carabao Cup tie against Rochdale.
Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.