Born an Angel, raised a Devil, Angel Gomes embodies the true spirit of Manchester United. Having first honed his skills on the streets of Salford, the diminutive midfielder made his debut at 16 following a decade of tuition at United’s academy, his graduation ceremony seeing him subbed on for Wayne Rooney. Eyes on the prize with a strong appreciation for style, we sit down with him 2 years after his debut for SoccerBible Magazine Issue 12.
Angel, can you tell us about your journey and where it began with Man United? Where did you get spotted?
I’ve been at United since I was six, so I’ve been at United for most of my life. I got spotted at a young age and the club has brought me through and developed me as a player and a person. I’ve played at all the United training grounds in that time. Started at smaller ones, got to play at the famous “Cliff” training ground and then over to Carrington and within 50 metres of the senior team. It’s been good to see and experience the different phases of the academy. Now seeing the first-team players, it gives you a new target to aim for.
Can you remember that feeling right at the beginning? What it was like to join such a club?
I grew up in an area where everyone was a United fan, so it was the easiest choice for me. As soon as I heard the name Manchester United, I knew straight away. That’s where I wanted to go. I was so excited to finish school for a different reason as I would be going over to train. My dad would say “You’ve got training today” and I remember just seeing my kit ready to go and it made me so excited to go and play. I couldn’t wait to get out there.
Which players did you grow up watching? Who caught your imagination?
It was always about Ronaldinho for me. At United we had Ronaldo and Nani as I was growing up and they were two that I watched and tried to study their game. They were confident players who played with freedom, and that’s what I enjoy the most. Having the licence to try different things is important for players nowadays.
Have you had a mentor at the club at all?
Marcus Rashford I’d say. I was in digs with him since U12 level through to U16s and a little bit of U18s. We grew up together and he’s gone on to be such a big part of the first team. He’s always been someone I’ve looked up to as a role model. He’s two age groups above me so I would always see him around, and when we were in digs we’d watch videos of players and that sort of stuff. Seeing what he has achieved only makes me want to work harder. I’ve seen him go through the academy and into the first team and he’s done that by working extremely hard.
What was it like to step onto the pitch at Old Trafford and replace Wayne Rooney? Can you remember much from that moment?
That was massive. I knew how big it was from the reaction in the stadium. To have all my family there that day meant so much. It made all the sacrifices and all the hard work worth it in one moment. It’s such a buzz. When you get that taste and that opportunity, it just gives you that hunger and desire to get even more of it.
When I came on for Rooney, he told me to just to go out there and express myself. He spoke to me before the game because he’s been in the same position, as someone so young coming on the pitch. He gave me some advice when we were in the changing room but the most important thing was to go out, express myself and enjoy it. To come on for a player like him was massive. It was a huge moment all round and I just did all I could to take it all in.
You’re at that age when it’s make or break for a lot of players. Have you seen any friends fall away from the game?
I’m at that age and that level where contracts start to fly around and people don’t know whether they’re coming in their direction or not. A lot of people end up having to drop divisions and some really struggle to find a team. I’ve seen that with people I know. A couple of years ago, it’s obviously not like that. When you’re younger you’re playing with no stress. Now, as you get older, your career depends on it and you have to make the right impression and showcase what you can do, constantly. From what I’ve seen, the more humble and more focused you are, the further you will get.
Where do you get style inspiration? Do you look outside football?
I like to follow a lot of basketball players on social media. I follow one account that shows the players arriving for match day. I think it’s cool that they get to wear their own clothes and show off their different tastes. Accounts like that show how people have their own style, so you can take a bit of inspiration from that. I’d say I’m into everything really though. I like high-end clothing, stuff that’s a little bit different, perhaps stuff that others might not wear.
For me, it feels nice to look nice. Clothes and fashion are important to that. I like to be a bit different, and when you can express yourself through your clothing then it gives you a chance to show people who you are. A lot of people will say footballers should just be thinking about football, which is right on one hand, but I think it’s also important to have other ideas.
Is there anyone in particular you look to?
People like Hector Bellerin set a good example as to how you can focus on your game but express your interests in other aspects of your life, like fashion. I think things like that should be celebrated and pursued. It’s definitely something I’d like to explore more in the future. In terms of influence outside of football, there’s a lot of players in the dressing room who like basketball who will come in and talk about the games. Same for NFL and the Super Bowl. I think it’s important to have interests away from the game so you’re not brainwashed by football, otherwise it can all get on top of you sometimes. That release away from the game is healthy.
I think in previous generations, footballers just felt the need to have this image that says “I am a footballer”. It was what people perceived footballers to be. Now with social media, it’s different, as people can get a lot more inspiration from different cultures. For me, I like the mixture of influences you can get, so say someone like A$AP Rocky in the States through to David Beckham in the UK, they each add something different.
When it comes to breaking through on the pitch, do you think you have to try to stand out with your style of play to make sure you’re noticed?
Every player is different. You’ll get a lot of players who are naturally quiet and reserved but then on the flip side, you’ll get those players who like to show their image and like to be different and stand out on the pitch. It’s not just through bright boots, it could be from things like how they wear their socks, their shirt or even their hair – there’s a lot of ways players express themselves through their look on the pitch. Ronaldo pretty much introduced the cutting of socks and wearing a white sock underneath look, for my generation anyway. At the time I didn’t really know what he was doing but it’s a trend that caught on and everyone started doing it.
What do you make of the trend that is emerging of players leaving the UK to get game time in other European teams?
A lot of players who have done it have seen it pay off, but, realistically, everyone is different and everyone has their own timings as to when they might break through. Jesse Lingard is a good example of that. He broke through a little later than some of the other players from his age group but look what he’s achieved now. It’s massive. Jadon Sancho is another one. We’ve played together for England for a while and he’s taken that step because he felt he was ready for the demands of first-team football, and he’s shown everyone what he can do. It’s all about timing and, for me, wherever my career goes, I want to be ready to play when the opportunity arises at Man United.
Read the full interview with Angel Gomes in SoccerBible Magazine Issue 12, which you can get here.
Photography by Jennifer Jukes for SoccerBible.