THE story of how Manchester United star Axel Tuanzebe achieved his dream to play for the Premier League giants is truly inspiring.
When he was just four, his parents left Congo for the UK in search of a better life for their family.
Axel Tuanzebe’s remarkable rise is a story of courage and determinationCredit: Rex Features
They settled in Rochdale, where a young Axel was unable to speak a word of English.
However, the ambitious youngster was determined to make something of his life and support his family.
He pushed himself through school, but his dream was to become a professional footballer – ever since he joined United’s Academy at the tender age of 8.
Last October against PSG in the Champions League, Tuanzebe, now 23, produced a coming-of-age performance and kept Kylian Mbappe at bay.
He is a man on a mission to succeed at Old Trafford.
Tuanzebe was born in Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but moved to England when his parents emigrated to the north.
Football became his passion. Soon he was scouted by Manchester United and joined their youth set-up – just four years after arriving on our shores.
Despite rising through the ranks at youth level, education was still very important to Tuanzebe, who understood he couldn’t just rely on his football.
He attended St Cuthbert’s RC High School, where he captained the Year 7 football team to the final of the English National Schools Cup at Stamford Bridge in 2009
Tuanzebe joined the Manchester United academy aged 8 after arriving from Congo four years earlierCredit: Instagram
That achievement earned the boy acknowledgement from the Mayor of Rochdale, who honoured him with a Sports Boy of the Year award.
Tuanzebe was a reportedly a model student and when it came to his exams, he passed his GCSE’s with flying colours with A grades.
But his academic pursuits would take a back seat as his football took centre stage.
A REAL LEADER
In 2019, Tuanzebe achieved a remarkable feat.
When he stepped out for United against Rochdale in a League Cup victory over Rochdale, he was wearing the captain’s armband – ahead of more experienced stars including Paul Pogba, Sergio Romero, Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard.
Not only did he become the youngest player to captain the side since Norman Whiteside in 1985, aged 21.
He also capped off a wonderful run of captaining Manchester United at EVERY single age level he’s played at.
In 2019 Tuanzebe led his Manchester United team mates out as captain in a League Cup tie against RochdaleCredit: Getty – Contributor
Incredibly, Tuanzebe has captained Man Utd at every level he has played atCredit: AFP or licensors
“Axel is a captain in the making, he’s a leader – why not give to young kids,” boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer later revealed to TalkSport after the game.
“We know we can give it to Sergio and we can give it to Paul, that’s no problem and they’ve been captains before.
“But it was Axel today and how does he handle it? He was absolutely fine, he enjoyed it.
“It’s just a way of telling him that we trust him.”
After breaking into the United first team, making his debut against Wigan in a 4-0 FA Cup victory in 2017, he started his first senior match in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal four months later.
But with chances limited, Tuanzebe was sent on loan to Aston Villa, where he became a promotion hero in 2019.
He returned to Old Trafford – expected to push for a first team spot. A series of niggling injuries put pay to a limited run in the team, and he played just ten times in all competitions in 2019-20.
Tuanzebe was a promotion hero for Dean Smiths Aston VillaCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
Tuanzebe enjoyed a coming of age performance against PSG and didn’t give Kylian Mbappe an inchCredit: AFP or licensors
However, it was on the biggest stage where he proved his undeniable quality.
Faced with superstars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Tuanzebe put on his best display in a Manchester United shirt – as the Red Devils shocked PSG to win 2-1 in a Champions League game.
After the match, Solskjaer said: “We know that when you go away against a team like this, against players like Neymar and Mbappe, top, top players in the world, we know we have to defend well.
“We know David De Gea will have to make a few saves. Sometimes you’ll get in a foot race with Mbappe and you’ll have to run with him and we know Axel’s qualities – he’s a top defender.
“First game in, I don’t know, 10 months or something, which is just testament to the quality he has.”
HUNGRY FOR SUCCESS
Being a gifted footballer isn’t Tuanzebe’s only claim to fame. After all, he features in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 2018 he joined his Manchester United team mates on a preseason tour in Los Angeles.
There he was asked to take part in a game of Hungry Hippos for fun.
Tuanzebe is not just a upcoming footballing star, but also holds a Guinness World Record in Hungry Hippos gameCredit: Instagram @roshaunwilliams
The Hungry Hippos game is a favourite pastime for many young children, where players have to swallow as many marbles as possible using their hippoCredit: Amazon
He finished it in just 17.37 seconds – managing to record a world record at the same time.
For those who missed out on the famous game as a child, it features four hippos in a circle with a handful of balls in the middle.
Players each choose a hippo and need to use it to collect as many marbles as possible before they are all taken.
ENGLAND STAR IN THE MAKING
Although Tuanzebe is still eligible to play for Congo, it appears likely that he will choose to represent England.
He began his international career in 2017, starring for the Three Lions U17 side against Mexico.
That same year, Tuanzebe was a part of the U20 side that won all three matches at the Four Nations tournament.
Tuanzebe is an England youth international, but could still turn out for the country of his birth, DR CongoCredit: Rex Features
Now 23, Tuanzebe is ready to push for a place in United’s first teamCredit: Getty Images – Getty
In 2017, his rapid ascension at international level continued when he was capped by the U21 side against Ukraine.
Gareth Southgate has been monitoring Tuanzebe closely, and should he get a sustained run in the United side he might just partner his United team mate Harry Maguire at the heart of England’s defence.
That would be the icing on the cake for his astonishing rise.