Manchester United midfielder discusses his first 24 months in a red shirt, with the interview first featuring in the official matchday programme United Review.Information Guide Nigeria
First of all, it’s coming up to two years for you at United – has that gone quickly for you?
“Yeah, it been quick. I think, obviously, for the time that we are having at the moment, with the COVID and everything, time flies a little bit more because we don’t spend a lot of time out of the home. So it’s come quick but honestly it’s been two good years.
Going back, what can you remember about the day you signed?
“Everything. The day I signed will always be in my mind, also because it is the birthday of my little daughter. In the same day, I was signing for this massive club, I was celebrating the anniversary of my daughter so it will always be a special day for both reasons.”
“No, I have to make my job and make my impact. I was pretty sure I was ready for this chance. If you ask me, for example, after my first season in Sporting, I had the chance to go to other places but I was not feeling ready for the next step. I waited and stayed at the club as I felt I could grow up more there. When I had the offer from the club, from Manchester, I was pretty sure that I was ready for the next step. It was the right time and the right moment to do it.”

You’ve had some amazing moments in your two years here, are there any that stick particularly in your mind?
“All of them. Good and bad moments. They make you better, all of them. Obviously, when I scored my first goal, my first game, they are always the moments. They are always in your mind, obviously, the first time captaining the club was in Paris against PSG in the Champions League will leave a mark with me, of course. It’s always a very important step in your career to lead your team in a big stadium against a big club in a big competition. I think those three moments are probably the ones which will stay more – the first goal, first game and the first time I was captain and I am still waiting for the best, that is coming yet.”

We know how much you enjoy playing but it’s been a relentless schedule for you – long runs with United in Europe, your commitments with Portugal, it’s been a tough spell…
“It’s good. It’s what I want. I play football for this. I want to be involved in every game. I will have time to rest at the end of my career. I want to play as many games as possible and obviously give my best to help the team.”

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You’ve mentioned your family, how are they in Manchester – do you all feel settled in the north-west of England?
“Of course. My daughter is very happy to be in school, she starts speaking English and I’m really happy for her. The first few days in school were really hard for her, not understanding and everything, but now she’s made friends and everything. My anniversary at the club is coming and her anniversary is coming too so I’m preparing a big party for her, with all the friends she made in these two years. And that is most important for me. She is happy, my family is happy, my wife is happy and my son. If they are happy, I will produce better moments and better performances on the pitch if they are okay.”

Manchester must be very different to Lisbon but are there things here you enjoy more – presumably not the weather!
“[Laughs] I think that is the most difficult for us, probably because we came from a country where, normally, it’s not too cold and we come to Manchester and it’s been really, really cold! I have been in Udine and that was really cold in the winter also, it can snow and rain a lot. But I think this is the most difficult [thing] for us, obviously for the kids as they want to go out and play and it’s hard to make them stay at home. It’s something we have to adapt to and we are adapting to that too.”

You talk about your family’s support – do they often get to come to the matches to do that in person?
“Yeah, they come almost every time. Since the bigger one started school, not in the night time. If we play Saturday, they can come because it’s Sunday and no school. Of course, for the midweek games, it is difficult for them to come because she has to sleep sooner. So she is making the support from home most. I’ve said before, if she is okay, I will be good enough to perform and their support will be there anyway.”

If you could replay any of the matches over these two years, which one would it be?
“Probably the final of the Europa League – that was the most difficult until now, because I felt the better team lost. Obviously, congratulations to Villarreal. They did a really good game and the team that won is always the best one, you can say. But no, obviously, that was one I would like to repeat. I’m sure if we played that one again, we would win.”

Which game would you have most liked to have had fans at?
“I don’t know. All of them. I don’t make any difference with any moments, any clubs. Every game is important. Every game has the same joy as the other ones. I know probably, for the fans, to repeat the Leeds one, the first one, the 6-2. Probably that one big game they would enjoy it as I saw the atmosphere at the beginning of the season in that game. Probably they would have liked to be there for that game too.”

What did it mean to you to win the Player of the Year award again last season?
“Of course, I think it’s always important to win individual trophies. As a player, you always want to win the team trophies, the ones that count really, but obviously individual ones, for us, it’s really important to have these kind of trophies to lift you up. It gives you confidence, to keep working hard, keep fighting and understand much more will surely come to you. You have to keep your way, the best way you can. I think, if you get that kind of credit, you have to know that the expectations on you will be higher and higher every day.”

We know you’re a student of the game and love football from when we’ve spoken before so is that still the case and you’re watching a lot of matches?
“Of course. Every time I get the chance to see games, I’m always watching, if it’s the Premier League, Championship, Portugal, Spain, France. I have friends everywhere! Portuguese players are honestly playing everywhere and I like to see them playing. I will keep doing it because I think you can also improve your game by watching different styles of players and different styles of play in the teams. You can learn just by seeing football and understanding the movements and everything. You can enjoy at the same time and learn from that.”

You said after your goals at Aston Villa that it didn’t mean anything because we didn’t get the three points – has that always been your mentality?
“Because for me the most important will always be the team. Obviously, as a player, you want to have good numbers. I want to score goals and want to have assists. That is obvious. No player can say they don’t care about scoring goals or doing assists but I want to do that together with a good result. If we don’t get both, I will never be happy, I prefer to have a win than a goal or assist. This is part of football and we play a team sport so it has to be that. If not, I like to play tennis or whatever so I can play myself and by my numbers. For me, the most important is doing my best for the team. If I don’t score for as many games and we always get the three points, I will be happy anyway.”

What are your ambitions now you’ve been here a couple of years, for your time coming up at the club?
“My ambition is still the same. I want to win trophies with the club. That will always be in my mind until the last day I am at the club. I don’t know when that will be but, until then, I will believe that I can win trophies with this club because I think we can and I think the club deserves it, the fans deserve it and also the players, we deserve to win a trophy. Whenever that is, we have to do it step by step and understand we have those qualities but we have to understand how to do it, how to put everything together – the qualities and the intensity and everything.”

And that can happen this season as we still have a lot to play for…
“Of course, in the league, it is too far now. We have to be realistic and we have to fight for the top four and being in the Champions League next season. At the same time, fight for the Champions League and the FA Cup. I don’t care what people think or can say about us winning the Champions League or the FA Cup. I think we have the chance to win it, the qualities to win it and, most of all, we are in those competitions. Until we are out, we have to believe we can win those competitions.”JAMB Result

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Emediong Ekpe

Emediong Ekpe is a graduate of English. A professional Sports journalist/analyst, and a spoken word artist. He is passionate about decimating information and putting smiles on people's faces via news writing.

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