Angel Gomes’ difficult final season at Manchester United prompted exit in 2020

Former Manchester United midfielder Angel Gomes was deemed a star in the club’s academy. There were high hopes for the England U21 international, but a lack of first-team opportunities saw him opted for a transfer to Lille in 2020.

Gomes made his debut for Manchester United against Crystal Palace as a 16-year-old, coming on as a substitute to replace club legend Wayne Rooney. It was a milestone moment for a teenager who joined the academy aged 6.

The Englishman, who is godson of former United and Portugal winger Nani, only made six substitute appearances under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 2019/20 season.

Speaking to Laurie Whitwell of The Athletic, Gomes opens up about how his time at Old Trafford came to an end. Solskjaer gave the impression that he wanted Gomes to remain at the club and sign a new deal, but the academy graduate wasn’t convinced he would get the chances he needed in the team.

Gomes said: “I remember when I made the decision, I read a heap of messages and comments saying: ‘He left for money’. It didn’t even make sense. The biggest thing for me was opportunity.

“After the conversations I had with the staff at Lille, it made the most sense for me to go there because I knew I was going to get more of an opportunity; there was something in place. At the time, United didn’t give me the gist that was going to be the plan. I felt like I was just there.

“I kind of wanted a little bit of clarity that things will be put in place. I wanted to feel I was playing for the biggest team in the world and that I belong, you know?

“So I felt like taking that next step was me feeling wanted, having that arm around me, being told that I can do it — and ultimately the people at Lille did that. That was the same as when I went to Boavista on loan. No one could kind of understand that. But I had a conversation with the manager there (Vasco Seabra) and it was just the lift I needed.”

Gomes goes on to explain that his final year at United was one of the hardest things he’s endured in football. The 22-year-old is a regular for Lille, making 36 appearances last season and registering 2 goals as well as 2 assists. It’s a positive outcome after what we’d describe as a brave decision considering his circumstances, although he admits it has cost him a lot of things he misses.

“That final year at United was one of the hardest things I’ve done in football. Not really being involved, not knowing what’s going to be next. Seeing people doing well, training every week, but not really having opportunities to play. When I say training, I mean having that high standard. But then come the end of the week and there’s nothing for that. So it feels like you’re just wasting time.

“I had a Zoom call with the manager at Boavista, but when I met him in person, it was the biggest lift I’d ever had in football. It’s what I needed.

“He just let me know, ‘Listen, with me you don’t have to worry about X, Y, and Z. You’re going to play. I love you as a footballer. I don’t care how tall you are. I don’t care how much you weigh. I don’t care about any of this with how I want to play, with the system, you will be important for me’. I couldn’t have listened to anything better at that moment in time.

“I’m still in contact with the manager now because I really thank him for that season. At that time, I felt like I was falling in love with football again. I was so low, it was more mental than anything.

“That’s why now I say I’m proud of myself that I’ve gone through all of that. I’ve got the mental strength.

“It’s a big gamble leaving United, leaving my home in Manchester, going into the unknown. I remember being home thinking, ‘There’s no going back. I’ve actually made this decision here’. And in my head, I was thinking the worst. I felt like I took a thousand steps backwards, but it’s all coming to fruition. It’s gone better than I imagined it because of how down and negative I was at that time. But I’m just thankful to myself, really.

“It was a decision I chose to make. A very, very difficult decision. When I speak about it, no one understands how difficult it was.

“The amount of things I’ve had to weigh up, the amount of things I’ve had to miss  — like being back here (in Prestwich) now, being able to go pick up my nieces from school, missing birthdays — that’s stuff that people don’t see.”

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