Nani’s great. He used to invite me and my brother round to his house, he’d drive my brother into training. Hands down, one of the nicest, humblest guys I’ve ever met in my life. He’s now my godfather and, even though he’s playing in America these days, we still speak regularly.
He was always there to look up to when I was coming up through United’s youth system, but to be honest there are so many examples of that when you’re at the club. You’ve got all the first team there and then, but you’re also taught the history of the club, so whenever we used to go away with the club, the senior members of staff like Tony Whelan and Dave Bushell would teach you. You’d be waiting to board a plane somewhere and Tony would be giving us quizzes: who was the first player to do this, who scored the most goals as a substitute, little things like that. He’d tell us about when he used to play, telling us about Georgie Best and Denis Law, so they made sure we knew our stuff.
On the pitch, things went well for me. I still couldn’t get enough football – I’d sometimes train at Littleton Road with United, then go straight to the sports village with my mates to play on the astro there – and I managed to live out my ambition of playing for United in the Nike Cup. I won Player of the Tournament, which meant a lot after standing on the sidelines watching my brother play in it a few years earlier.
When I was 16, I got the closest yet to the first team when the Under-18s were told we were going to be ball-boys for a Europa League tie at Old Trafford the following night. We were all like:
“Ballboys? It’s freezing!” We just wanted to be watching the game in the stands, but it wasn’t too bad, to be fair, when we did it because you’re closer to the pitch and it was a good experience. None of the balls came my way, so I was ok!
We reached the Europa League final that season, which meant that Jose Mourinho changed things around for the last game of the season in the Premier League. He picked a young team and put me on the bench while I was still 16.
I just remember that towards the end of the game, we were winning 2-0 and I was out on the touchline stretching, but I couldn’t hear anything. The manager was shouting me and I couldn’t hear, so a steward clocked what was happening and he shouted me. I turned around, he pointed at the manager and I was like: Ohhhh, right… I’m going on!
I just remember standing there, seeing the board go up, seeing 10 come up and Wayne Rooney coming off towards me. It was his last game at Old Trafford as a United player so he got a standing ovation, everyone clapping him off.
Meanwhile, I’m stood there thinking to myself… this is crazy.
As he was getting closer, I’m like:
“I’m ACTUALLY going to come on here.”