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United stars make Christmas dreams come true for Foundation participants

Children from Foundation partner schools and projects received some early festive cheer as Manchester United players surprised them as part of the club’s Christmas campaign.

| by Katie Newton
Deserving participants were nominated by their Foundation coaches for a Christmas surprise they’ll never forget as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashord, plus United legend Nicky Butt, took time out to deliver gifts and make dreams come true.

Liam, 11, from Waterhead Academy in Oldham, thought he was visiting the Aon Training Complex to take part in a documentary about Manchester United Foundation.  Little did he know he would instead be rubbing shoulders with United stars Ibrahimovic and Mata, before receiving coaching tips from Head of Academy Nicky Butt to help with his dreams of becoming a PE teacher.

Claire Harrop, the Foundation coach based at Liam’s school who nominated him for the surprise, said, “We were waiting to meet the legend that is Nicky Butt when Zlatan put in an appearance and Liam was in absolute awe, his little face lit up and I’ve never seen him gobsmacked.  As if that wasn’t enough, Juan Mata turned up and again Liam was speechless.  I think in terms of motivating and inspiring Liam, today has worked a charm and it’s a memory that will stay with him forever.”

17-year-old Joao attends the Foundation’s Street Reds programme and has also started volunteering at various projects through the Volunteer Ninety Nine initiative.  He was nominated to receive a Christmas surprise by his coach for his dedication to sessions and his improvement in confidence.

Again, Joao believed he was taking part in filming for the Foundation and received the surprise of his life when his football hero Paul Pogba arrived bearing early Christmas gifts of an Xbox and FIFA 17 game.

The French star spent time giving tips and having a kick about with the young volunteer before signing shirts for Joao and his father.

Following the surprise Joao said, “I just feel unbelievable, it feels amazing, there are no words to describe it, thank you very much.  I asked my coach if Pogba was going to be here and he said he didn’t know so it was a big surprise to see him standing behind me.  I didn’t have a clue he was coming; it is a dream come true.”

Later the same day, more festive activities took place as Marcus Rashford returned to the Foundation Street Reds programme he attended before becoming a first team star.

Alongside teammate Jesse Lingard, Marcus visited the evening football project at Manchester Health Academy in Wythenshawe that he had previously attended since he was 11 years old.  

The young participants were in awe of the players, especially 13-year-old Elliot who had been nominated to receive a Christmas surprise by his Foundation coach.  Elliot, who has autism, has attended Street Reds for six months and his confidence and social skills have improved massively within that time.  He couldn’t believe it when the two Reds had a two-on-one kick about with him and presented him with a signed shirt.

Lee Caldwell, Elliot’s Street Reds coach, said, “Elliot has some special needs but he has developed his social skills and has just been great since he’s been coming to Street Reds.  It’s a dream come true for him and the other children to meet the players, especially round Christmas, it’s a great present for them to just spend some time with Jesse and Marcus, have a kick about and get some tips.”

These events are part of a series of festive surprises for Foundation participants and United supporters, all revealed throughout December.

Watch all the Christmas videos here.