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Jayden from St Alphonsus RC Primary School meets Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Aon Training Complex

Zlatan gives participants a Christmas surprise of a lifetime

Children from Manchester United Foundation partner schools and projects received the Christmas surprise they will never forget this month – an unexpected visit from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

| by Tom Jones

As part of the Foundation’s mission to spread festive cheer across Greater Manchester, deserving participants were nominated by their Foundation coaches for a Christmas surprise as the Reds’ iconic no.10 delivered gifts and made dreams come true.

Pupils from Manchester Enterprise Academy Central in Fallowfield, Manchester Enterprise Academy in Wythenshawe, Manchester Creative and Media Academy in Blackley, Middleton Technology School and Loreto High School in Chorlton were all invited to the Aon Training Complex, along with a player from the Foundation’s Girls’ Regional Talent Club. As far as the youngsters were aware, it was for a leadership and training session with some Foundation coaches, as well as some young pupils from the club’s partner primary schools.

The session started as planned, only for it to be interrupted when Zlatan entered the Academy indoor training arena bearing gifts for all. The presents included hoodies and scarves for the older children; and teddies, stationery sets and gloves for the younger participants. All the children also received a signed shirt, a FIFA 18 video game and a baseball cap; all donated by United’s official club partners Uber, EA Sports and New Era respectively.

One delighted participant was Shia from St. Alphonsus RC Primary School in Stretford, one of the club’s partner primary schools. A participant in the Foundation’s disability awareness programme, Shia has made incredible progress from sessions with the club, with his confidence and self-esteem noticeably improving. A massive Red, Shia said meeting one of his heroes is something he’ll never forget. 

“I can’t believe I’m at Carrington at the first-team training ground and I’ve met Zlatan and he gave me FIFA 18 – I just can’t believe it!” he said. “I’m only nine years old and this happening to me is the best day of my life!”

Manchester Creative and Media Academy pupil Kelly also received a shock when Zlatan walked through the door. Nominated for her hard work and dedication at school, Kelly is also a ball assistant at Old Trafford, but has never met a player face-to-face. 

“It was a massive surprise, I didn’t expect it at all,” said Kelly. “I love being a ball girl, and I’m used to seeing the players on the pitch, but Zlatan is my favourite player and I’ve never got to meet him properly before, so it was exciting – I’m still shaking!”

Speaking about the visit, Foundation primary schools manager Jennifer Mildenhall said: “This is so inspirational to these children. The schools that we work in are fantastic with the pupils, but being able to offer them something extra will make it such a special Christmas for them

This event is among a number to have taken place in the build up to Christmas, with many Foundation participants and United supporters receiving festive surprises ahead of the big day.