Axel Tuanzebe: My Story
Axel Tuanzebe has revealed that the key piece of advice in his football career came at Under-11 level, from Manchester United youth coach Neil Harris.
The Academy graduate sat down with club media recently for an exclusive new feature called My Story, in which he maps out the lifelong odyssey that has taken him from the DR Congo, via Rochdale, to captaining Manchester United’s first team.
Since joining the club aged eight, Tuanzebe has skippered the club at every level, and he pointed to a “massive piece of information” that he received as a youngster as one of the key drivers of his career.
“Is there anything I was told that stuck out as really good advice? We had Neil Harris,” he remembered.
“I think he’s still a coach here for the younger age groups. We had him at Under-11s. The way Carrington is built up, it’s like 11s, 12s pitches, then 13s, 14s, 15s, then 16s, youth team, Reserves and first team.
“If you’re on the 11s pitch, then straight ahead of you, you can see the first-team pitch. He said literally ‘one or two of you will end up over there, but the rest of you won’t be here’. That’s something that always stuck with me throughout my time here and I’ve always remembered it through every age group. I thought it was a massive piece of information. It helped me understand that I will always have to be on top of my game to be at the top level.”
Tuanzebe admitted that the message was a wake-up call – and led to a realisation that he had to work hard and focus immediately, irrespective of his young age.
“It’s definitely massive and I’ve grown to understand it more and more,” he explained. “There’s only two people from my age group that are still here from Under-11s, which is me and Marcus [Rashford].
“You can’t really be attached to people, you have to pursue your own career and focus on that, because, at the end of the day, there are not many spots available and there’s a lot of people that drop out, so you’ve got to be focused and very strong-willed to pursue your own career.”
Tuanzebe opens up on a number of other fascinating subjects in the wide-ranging, touching interview – including how he deals with the disgusting racism that many black players have received via social media in recent years.
He also spoke candidly about his ambitions for next season, when he hopes to finally establish himself as a regular starter for the United first team.
“Being 23 now, I want to be playing week in, week out,” he stated. “I’ve had a taste of it, being at [Aston] Villa [on loan]. I enjoyed it. That’s something I wanted to replicate here. I haven’t had the run of games that I’ve hoped for, but, next season, I’ll definitely be playing football.
“When I was on loan, the pressure was obviously different. Not to say that Villa aren’t a big club, but you know, Man United are top of the top and the fans expect something. Even ourselves, we expect performances week in, week out, we expect wins week in, week out – no matter who the opponent is.
“You just need to understand that and take it from there really.”