'I'm pushing every day to reach my potential'

Tuesday 13 December 2022 06:59

Manchester has been my home, growing up with my family and friends all around me. It’s been brilliant. It’s a beautiful city and it’s been wonderful.

My dad’s been a massive part of my story, he introduced me to football when I was younger. Ever since then, I played it in school, at lunchtimes, on the astroturf with my mates and the Academy at United.

That’s how I got introduced to football, by my dad, he’d take me when my mum was working. He couldn’t leave me home alone so he’d bring me to watch him. I’d take shots at the keepers before the game and just ended up watching for the hour but I just loved the football.

At that age, you don’t really care about anything. I’d shoot and the keeper would let in, but I wouldn’t know he was doing it just because I’m young, so I’d celebrate and laugh, it was brilliant.

My Story: I look back with a smile Video

My Story: I look back with a smile

Zidane Iqbal takes part in our My Story series as he recalls his path to breaking into the senior squad...

In primary school, I’d play football every lunchtime and play for the school team. We won a cup at St Margaret’s and William Hulme, I played there as well for the school team.

I remember when we won the trophy in primary school, at dinner time, the school team had their own table. It had biscuits out and chocolates out and only we could sit there as we’d won a trophy for the school. We got to sit in the front of the dining hall so it was amazing.

I played against Charlie Savage as well, he went to  another school. They smashed us in the final, like 5-1, but I played football throughout my whole school life. I knew Charlie as we grew up in the Academy together so, when I'd see him at United, we’re like we’re going to beat you, you’re going to get smashed because we knew we were playing each other so we’d give it to each other in training!

I used to play for fun, even in year six, we ended up winning a trophy and I always took football seriously. I was at United then so I’ve always taken football seriously but it’s always enjoyable. Football, in my opinion, is the best sport. It’s not only serious but fun. I don’t mind working hard because I enjoy it.

When I was younger, you’d dribble and take on your man, and do a lot of ball work at United. We used to have this thing called numbers. They’d shout out number one and we’d all know what it was and do a specific skill or ball manipulation. Number two was a different type of ball manipulation. I also did a lot of work with my dad and played a lot of futsal as well. I used to go to Manchester futsal and it helped me a lot, my dad helped me a lot and United, of course. All of that combined has got me where I am now.

We used to train Tuesdays and Tuesdays and have Saturday or Sunday games, it would just depend on what day it would fall on. Futsal was every Monday night so, because I was at United on Tuesday and Thursday, I could go to futsal and practice because it was a really tight pitch. The ball was different, 4v4, always 1v1 against your man with a lot of ball manipulation and moving the ball, beating your man. That’s helped me a lot and I’ve taken what I’ve learned from futsal to football and a lot of it has helped me. I remember my manager at Manchester futsal told me about Max Kilman, at Wolves, who was a big name that has come out of it.

The ball is smaller and doesn’t bounce as much. The nets are smaller but it’s very technical, even the keeper can come out and make it 5v4 when you’re in possession. There’s nowhere to hide in futsal because the pitch is so small. If you do hide, you’ll be a man down, if you don’t want the ball. You’ve got to be brave, take on your man and that’s helped me a lot.

Zidane was impressive in both of the friendly matches out in Spain.

The Cliff was amazing, I remember my signing day like it was yesterday. Every Sunday, this was a big memory, we’d walk out to the Champions League anthem and wear kits. We had Brazil kits, Portugal kits and the coaches would tell us the teams. We’d dress up in the national team’s kits and all walk out to the Champions League anthem. It was a round-robin tournament and the winner gets the bragging rights for the whole week until the next session. Next Sunday, it’d be the same but a different team and you’d walk out to the Champions League anthem and see all the parents watching you. It was amazing.

One hundred percent, it's some achievement coming through the ranks. Charlie Wellens and Will Fish grew up in the same age-group, Rhys Bennett was a year below and has grown up at United. Charlie McNeill was at United before City and then joined back. It’s amazing growing up with players you’ve played with basically all your career. Just to be with them is amazing, to see how far you’ve come since you started.

I mean when I was younger, I used to play down an age-group so that’s helped me a lot mentally. I was always one of the smaller guys. I was dead skinny, back then I was even skinnier growing up! It was hard for me. Other players were pushing me off the ball so I had to use skills and think about stuff. But also United helped me by playing me a year down and it’s helped me to not look back since. I remember my dad telling me this and I was really upset in the car, I was like: 'is this their way of telling me I am going to be released?' Looking back now, not just me but, us as a family, dealt with it really well. Now I’m not looking back, just bettering myself and will hopefully break through.

The coaches mentioned Angel Gomes to me. Look at him now, playing for Lille in the Champions League. They mentioned Paul Scholes but they’re obviously the players who played down and have gone on to do well. Obviously, other players have played down and their careers have not gone as successfully as they wanted it to. But I knew I could make the situation really good by looking up to players like Scholes and Angel, if they played down. I look at it as a positive, they’re doing it to better you, so that’s what I did and it helped me a lot.  

Iqbal: We are all still learning


Zidane insists he and his United team-mates will take the positives from our friendly defeat to Cadiz.

Obviously, it’s a dream come true for me. Coming through the Academy, to be training with the first team every day. I’m still working hard and still pushing every day, just to better myself and learning from these brilliant players just to reach the potential I think I can reach in my career. Hopefully, I can break through at United; the club I’ve grown up watching and playing for and, you know, it would be a dream come true.

No-one’s career is going to be the same as any other. Everyone has their ups and downs, it’s how you bounce back and retaliate from all the downs. When you’re up, you know you’re going to come down eventually, so you just have to enjoy the moments. When I look back on what I’ve done so far, I remember the days when it was tough and now I look back with a smile.

I'm living the dream. Not just me but for my family as well. They used to drive me to training and drive me back. To make my debut last year, then go on the pre-season tour and just put on the kit, be with the first team.

Not just for me, but for my family and my friends, it’s proud. Very proud.