Versatile Chong thanks United team-mate
Manchester United's Tahith Chong is enjoying life at Birmingham City, as his loan deal has been a real success so far.
The 21-year-old spoke to Jesse Lingard about the Midlands club, following the England international's stint with the Blues in the 2013/14 season and is developing his game at St Andrews, performing in different roles for manager Lee Bowyer.
Although known primarily as a winger at United, Chong has been playing well in more central positions for the Championship club and is determined to learn from the experience.
All the reports have been positive so how are you finding things at Birmingham?
"Well, I think we had a good start to the season. Obviously, now it's a bit tougher with the recent games but I'm sure we'll turn that around. It's been a very good experience. As I've said loads of times, everyone here in Birmingham has been very welcoming, from the players and staff to the fans. Everyone has helped me a lot since I came here and that has made it easier for me to adapt really."
Is it important when you go on loan to feel the warmth from the new team as soon as you arrive?
"Of course, you're going into a new environment, a new place with new people. You don't know anyone there so, for them to receive me with open arms, just makes it easier on the pitch as well."
You had a good pre-season with United and scored in the friendly at Derby - did that groundwork enable you to hit the ground running?
"Yeah, just to have about two or three weeks there [at United], which was good for my pre-season conditioning-wise and everything you get there. So when I went to Birmingham, I was ready to go straight away. I did feel it helped me a lot."
Are you feeling sharp and better than ever as you've received lots of plaudits ever since you started?
"Yeah, I've felt good. Obviously, for me, it's been getting used to the whole three games in a week, Wednesday-Saturday-Tuesday and back to Saturday again. It's been very enjoyable and, like I've said it's an experience that I have been enjoying a lot."
There is a relentless schedule in the EFL isn't there but are you getting used to it?
"Yeah, I think obviously, in the first couple of weeks, you've got to get used to it a bit more but you try to manage your body a bit more and recover well. In the last two or three weeks, I've got to say my body is starting to get used to it more and more, which is good to see as well."
Birmingham are a big club - is that something you felt from the moment you first arrived?
"Well, before I left, I spoke to Jesse, just briefly, about it as he's been here as well. So I spoke to him and he explained a bit about the club so I already had kind of an idea. It's always different when you experience it yourself but I have got to say it has been fantastic for me."
What did Jesse say - did he offer any specific advice?
"Jesse just said about the fans - if you work hard on the pitch and all the stuff like that then the fans can help you through games. And the players too. I just came in and really liked the experience. I just wanted to listen to the staff and players and what they wanted me to do and tried to get on with that."
You had a couple of loans last season, at Werder Bremen and Club Brugge, but is it very different having full stadiums this time around?
"Yeah, I think, for every player really, to have some fans back into the stadium, it just feels nice to have supporters back. Whether it's home or away, I feel the stadiums are bouncing again so it's quite enjoyable really."
You're an exciting flair player who likes to get fans off their seats so have you missed them when you're dribbling?
"I don't even think it's only that. Sometimes, in a game, it might be the last 15 minutes and you're feeling a bit tired. Sometimes the fans can push you through. If it's in the last five minutes, just to make that extra yard or extra slide-tackle, stuff like that. The fans are a massive part of that and it's just nice to have them back really."
You've been playing in a slightly different role for Birmingham to what we'd seen at United - can you explain it for us?
"So I have played two or three different positions now. Obviously, we play most of the games with five or three at the back, whichever way you look at it, and I've been mostly in midfield. Probably on the left side of midfield if we play three or four. On the left side or into the no.10 position."
Is it important for you to show your versatility so you're able to perform in a number of areas?
"Well, for me, development-wise, it's been very good. I'm learning new stuff every day and that different positions require different things that you may have to do. These are things I may have to do to help the team out and it's been a very good experience for me. As a player, I can feel I am developing different aspects of the game."
We hear there was an unusual incident in the Championship game at Luton, when even the home fans applauded you when you were substituted, such was your impact...
"Yeah, that was lovely from their fans, obviously, to do that. We played well, I feel like we played as a team but it was a lovely gesture from the Luton fans really."
It shows how well you are doing - you've also won some Man of the Match awards...
"I feel like it's nice when you get it obviously but, for me personally, the main focus is on trying to help the team win games. It's about trying to help the team get points so I always feel it's a bonus. It's more about trying to help the team to get points in the games really."
You've gone close to scoring a few times - do you feel a goal is coming soon?
"Yeah, I think I've been quite close and am getting closer and closer in every game really! I feel like one is coming in the coming weeks, for sure."
You have managed some assists so is it a case of just getting on that scoresheet as well?
"Exactly. Like I said, I've been quite close - there was one last time out [against Nottingham Forest] when I was quite unlucky. The keeper got a touch on it and it hit a post and came back out. I've been getting very close so I think it's going to come soon."
There has been a bit of a goal drought at home but do you feel it will just take one to go in to open the floodgates?
"I think if you look at the games we've played, we've been very unlucky. Even the game against Forest, we hit the post twice and had two good chances after that. They get one not even chance and it hits the top bins from outside the box and I think it's one of those things at the moment where, if we score first, we'd win that game. But we're doing a lot of things well and there are a lot of positives to take as well. It's about turning that around and hopefully getting the first goal in whatever game to go on to win it really."
What's it like having Lee Bowyer, someone we came across many times in the past, as manager?
"To be honest, it's been very positive. How he is as a manager is he's quite direct and quite straight to the point. If you do good, he'll tell you that. If you do bad, he'll tell you that it's bad. I feel I need to have that, especially for me. As a player, I want to know when I've done something bad. I want to learn from that and take that criticism on board to learn from it. It's really been very good and, like I said, the results have not really been showing what we're showing on the pitch. Hopefully, we'll start getting the results."
You say Lee is honest, he reckons you are an absolute credit to United - how nice was it to hear him say that?
"Yeah, it is nice to hear that but I think he's been talking to me a lot about what I've got to improve on as well. I feel like that's the most important conversation because, while it's obviously nice to get those compliments, him saying that, as a player I want to improve every day. I know I've got stuff to improve on. That's where I think he is helping a lot, talking to me and telling me what to improve on, and doing extra work on that after training, which has been very good."
Lee also said for all your skill, he appreciated the effort you put in, is that something you've had ever since it was drilled into you at United - that work ethic?
"I feel like it's quite important to have that side of the game as well because it's not going to be possible for me to beat my man in every game and have the perfect game, you might say. I might lose a couple of balls. You are going to have some games like that but it's still important to help the team out where I can. It might be sprinting back to help the defence out or maybe try to recover the ball for a team-mate if someone loses it. I feel this is just as important for me as running at players and stuff."
How have the senior pros helped you too - with Troy Deeney there now, there's a wealth of experience to tap into?
"Even before Troy came in, we had quite a lot of senior players, who I was speaking to a lot. Troy came as well and he's speaking a lot to me and helping me out as well - on and off the pitch. It's always good to have senior players telling you positive things and, like I've said, stuff you might need to improve on as well. Him telling me what I can improve on helps me get that on board."