Seven players from Manchester United Girls’ Centre of Excellence celebrated their England call-ups with a visit and some top tips from Rio Ferdinand at Carrington recently.
The seven, aged 13 to 17, had their talents recognised with an invite to attend England training camps, with some girls going on to represent their country in international matches.
As a reward, the girls visited United’s Carrington training headquarters to take part in a Q&A session with Rio, who spoke about a number of topics, ranging from dealing with the pressure of media attention to training tips and revealing that he was close to becoming a star of the stage, not the pitch: “I didn’t start playing for a Sunday team until I was about 11,” he said. “I also did athletics, drama and dance until I was 14 but my dad said I should just concentrate on one thing. Luckily I decided on football so it was from then on that I started playing seriously.”
It was Rio’s guidance on the girls’ development that was most keenly sought. “The best advice I can give is to keep working at it and try to make your training as game-related as possible. Try and do things at match pace; just repeat, repeat, repeat so when you get to a match it becomes second nature; you won’t even have to think about it.”
Yvette Loukes, 14 from Congleton, has trained at the Centre of Excellence since she was eight, and said: “It was brilliant meeting Rio; he gave us lots of advice about how we can develop more as footballers. The visit has made me a lot more motivated.”
Katie Zelem, 17, from Failsworth, Oldham, has also played for United girls’ teams since the age of eight and has now represented her country 25 times. Currently competing at U19s level, Katie is always looking for ways to improve her game. “The England girls are all two or three years older than me but it’s really good to step up; the game is a lot quicker and it gets you thinking.”
For Katie, due to fly out to La Manga, Spain, this month for games with Italy, Holland and Scotland, Ferdinand’s words of wisdom are invaluable. “He was really honest with us,” she added. “He has played for England through all the age groups. He’s not just gone in at the top. He’s had to keep working hard to stay in the England set up. It means a lot coming from Rio.”
Click here for more information about the Manchester United Foundation FA Girls’ Centre of Excellence.