Tom Nolan: Meet The Manchester United Fan and Instagram Star Who Trained With The First Team

Tom Nolan

Every young boy’s dream is to represent the club they love; to lace up their boots and get out on the pitch. Unfortunately, many football fans will never get the opportunity to do so, only experiencing their heroes by watching them play, rather than being amongst them. However, Manchester United fan Tom Nolan, who is known as tnfreestyle on Instagram, lived his dream when he was invited to join the team to train in Los Angeles.

The football freestyler joined Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United side for their pre-season stop in LA in 2018. He produces videos of his freestyle tricks and uploads them on social media; these videos can bring in millions of views.

Nolan’s skills have rewarded him with massive opportunities. He impressed star Paul Pogba so much that he received a pair of his boots; Juan Mata was blown away by his freestyle performance.

Last Word On Football had a chat with Tom to see what the experience was like.

Tom Nolan On Meeting Paul Pogba

Nolan gained traction by uploading his videos on the internet and amassing plenty of views. Eventually, he caught the attention of Adidas, who signed him up on their talent books.

In 2016, the then 16-year old was invited to meet Pogba at an Adidas event. They were doing a promotion for his transfer to Manchester United. Nolan tells us about this day with a lot of fondness:

“One minute I’m listening to him being interviewed and the next I am having a handshake”, Nolan says. “I had a conversation with him and I was completely star-struck as at this point.

“I wasn’t doing it (freestyle) for a job and had no real experience in the game so after just  telling him what I do and some motivating words from him he goes and gets a bag and just gives it to me and it was a pair of match-worn Champions League boots.”

The now 20-year old looks back at this point as a major boost to his career and set him up to achieve his dream. He was now in the thoughts of Manchester United’s star man.

“I was proper shocked and he was such a nice guy to meet. That was very early in my career so it was a game-changer and huge boost of motivation to continue to chase that dream.”

Nolan Trains With Manchester United

Nolan spent the next couple of years honing his talents and working hard on building a following. He created viral videos on Facebook and Instagram, racking up views in the six figures showing off his skill.

Throughout this time, Nolan has remained part of Adidas. He produced videos with the sporting giants and gained a following through this; however, he was blown away in 2018 by one opportunity.

“One of the guys from Adidas called me and said ‘Tom, you don’t have a criminal record, do you?’ and he says ‘because we’re looking to send you to LA with Manchester United on their pre-season tour.”

Tom remained in shock with excitement until the day he linked up with his idols. Despite working on his talent, he was shocked to get such an opportunity.

“I couldn’t believe it at the time (it was) just surreal. The whole thing is easily my best life experience ever. I remember being in the hotel the night before thinking I’ve got this far from viral football videos about to fly to LA on tour with Man United.”

Freestyler Nolan (L) meets Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata (R). Credit: Tom Nolan

Impressing the Squad

Whilst the opportunity to train with the squad was a dream come true, Nolan was understandably nervous when the session began. He was thrown into the deep end after Michael Carrick told the group they would be doing a rondo drill – and the youngest was in the middle.

“I know for a fact I’m the youngest in my group and all I’m thinking is I’m never getting the ball off these guys I’m gonna be running around just getting torn apart.”

Nolan eventually got out of the middle and began passing the ball around with the team. He was living out millions of boys’ dreams by even taking part – even for such a short time.

He then impressed the trio of Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, and Alexis Sanchez in a game of football tennis.

“I was confident in this game though as it suited me perfectly. With my first touch and accuracy, I fancied myself against these guys with my team and once we got started you could feel the competitiveness.”

“I don’t play for Man Utd but they were competing as if I did. I enjoyed it because knowing at times you’re on top of some top-class players in a game as simple as football tennis is an ego boost.”

In the sessions, Nolan’s experience got even better, when he was talking to midfielder Juan Mata. The Spaniard, impressed by Nolan’s talent, offered some words of wisdom to help his journey.

“He came and spoke to me and said ‘look you’ve got a talent keep working hard and you’ll make it to the top!’ It’s something that has always stuck with me hearing it from a player with his experience really keeps you motivated.”

Becoming A Freestyler

Tom’s dream came true because of his unique talent with a football. He took time out of school and college to focus on developing his freestyling – specialising in perfecting his accuracy.

“I was always watching The F2 in school and first gained some real attention online in Year 11 of school, after filming a video that was on Facebook. It went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views online. After that brief success, I just knew I had to find a way to make it a career.”

Tom Nolan left the United training camp even more motivated than before to succeed. He had lived out the dream of every single Manchester United fan and used it to improve. His chat with Juan Mata after the sessions inspired him to strive for perfection.

“I now have such high standards because I feel like I’d be cheating myself if it’s not the best of the best. Knowing players at the top of the game see I’m capable of creating some of the highest standard football videos out there and want to see me succeed is amazing.

Main Photo

Credit: Tom Nolan