Tahith Chong believes his elevation to the substitutes' bench for Manchester United's Champions League home game with Juventus in October not only gave him a fascinating glimpse of first-team life, but also provided a filip to all of the club's youngsters.
The skilful winger has learned from the experience of going on the summer tour of the US and also earning that call-up for such a huge European match, which he feels will stand him in good stead. The teenager helped Nicky Butt's Under-19s win again in the final group game of the UEFA Youth League in Valencia, while team-mates James Garner and Mason Greenwood earned a place on the bench with the first team at the Mestalla.
”It was amazing,” Chong said of his place in the squad for the Juventus encounter.
“I think words cannot describe it sometimes. It was just an amazing experience for me as well.
“I trained the day before but wasn’t too sure and then, obviously, I got the call so I rang my family and they were just happy as well. It was a proud moment for them as well after all the years I’ve worked, even in Holland and stuff like that. In pre-season, you’re playing friendlies but a Champions League game is completely different preparation. It’s still similar but a bit different because of how big the game is. So it was a different experience for me and a good one as well.”
He went on: ”It was just a case of doing everything what the first team were doing and it’s great to have them around you, talking to you before the game and seeing how they prepare. I think that’s just experience for me. Going up there just makes me want to work harder, whether that’s in the Under-23s or Under-19s, to go harder for the team I’m playing in. That just makes me want more. It’s not only for me but all the younger boys as well. Maybe they can see me go to the bench and see what United is all about – bringing youth through. It’s amazing to see.”
Chong was also rewarded for his fine form at United with a first call-up to the Netherlands Under-21 side last month.
”Obviously it was an honour, to be honest, to be called up for the national team and make that step up to the Under-21s,” he told MUTV.
“It was a proud moment for me and my family again. It was a big game against Germany and a hard one as they have qualified for the Euros coming up but Holland haven't. So we went up with a younger group, while they had a full team [Germany won 3-0 in the friendly last month]. So it was hard but a learning experience for us once again.
“It’s good to see Holland getting back to where we are, especially with younger boys involved. Hopefully, we can get back to where we belong after missing the big tournaments recently, and continue playing well.”
One of the things Chong is working on is his strength as he handles the rigours of men’s football - and the teenager is looking forward to making more progress in 2019.
“I think because, last year, I played half a season with the Under-23s, you kind of get used to the physical bit,” he said.
“But I am learning every single day how to use my body better.
”I’m learning new stuff every day and doing gym work with the group as well. Everyone is just enjoying training and playing games. Obviously, I’ll just see what happens. With the way it’s going, I’m very happy – the Under-19s are doing very well with a very good team and the same for the Under-23s. We’ve got to keep going on the same road.”
United's Under-23s take on Reading in Premier League 2 at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday. The match will be live on MUTV and kicks off at 13:00 GMT.
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