‘I’d let everyone down’ – Manchester United youngster left in tears after being called into Sir Alex Ferguson’s office
“I remember going downstairs and getting into my car, and I just burst out crying.
“I just let it all out. I remember feeling like I’d let everyone down.
“I’ve let my parents down, who have sacrificed their lives for me; that’s how it felt.
“It was so heavy. And I can remember not knowing who I was anymore.”
When you only dream of playing for Manchester United, there is a danger that failing to make the grade at Old Trafford can see you labelled a failure.
It’s a feeling that Kenji Gorre is well used to by now.
The 28-year-old spent 11 years at United as a youngster before he himself saw that dream end after a meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson.
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Gorre was born in the Netherlands but moved to England when he was just five years old. His father, Dean, was a professional footballer who had just signed for Huddersfield.
Football had been in Kenji’s blood ever since he was born, and it was only natural that as his dad continued his career in the English football pyramid, his son would begin his journey there too.
Gorre would play his first game for Broadheath Central, a local side in Altrincham, at the age of just six. Right away, he was already catching the eye of the region’s biggest clubs.
“On my first game, there was a City scout there, and he said, ‘we want him to come in, train with us, and be with us’, at six years old, and my dad was like, ‘no, definitely not. We’re not doing that, this is his first game, let him enjoy it’,” Gorré told ThreeSixtyTV series Released.
“And I was none the wiser, had no idea what was going on. But we went home, and my dad was telling my mum, and I can hear the conversation, and my mum was like, ‘what are you doing? You’re killing his dreams already! Let him do his thing!’.”
Gorre was oblivious to the huge interest in his signature and, at such a young age, was just happy to be following in his father’s footsteps by playing football for fun.
He spent the first two years training with both Manchester City and United, but at the age of nine, he was told he had to choose to stick with the club if he was going to continue his footballing journey.
“What convinced me to join Manchester United at that time was definitely the players at the club, the freedom that they gave me, and the feeling that I had in my heart. Rene Meulensteen had a big impact on that as well, as he was someone that I admired and someone that loved football, and when your coach loves football, it rubs off onto the players, and it rubbed off onto me.
“At Carrington, the pitches continued to go up a step. The first team was on the other side, and as you’d go up a step, you continued to go closer to the building every time through U8s, U9s, and U10s, and every time I made it. Every time, it was ‘wow, I’ve made it. Yes! Onto the next!’.”
Gorre continued to impress as he made his way through the ranks at United but was faced with a tough decision when his father was appointed the assistant manager of Southampton.
Arsenal and Chelsea had both signalled an interest in signing the 16-year-old, moves that would make a lot more sense if he decided to move with his father, but deep down he knew he was already in the right place.
“For me, in my heart, I just loved Manchester United. I was really happy there, and I was going to do everything in my power to stay. And I remember the likes of Jesse Lingard used to come down and play with us, Michael Keane used to come down and play with us. So for us younger guys, our chances were so limited.
“And I remember thinking, ‘am I going to get my scholar?’, and I remember when I went into the office with Brian McClair, my dad, and my mum, and when we were there, they said, ‘we want to offer you a scholarship’, and it was just such a good feeling. Now it’s serious. Now I feel like a real professional football player. It was a two-year scholarship that they offered me at the time, and when you’re 18 they’ll assess the situation, which is where that will take you.”
Gorre had already done so well to earn his scholarship at United, but now the real test was going to be keeping his place in an age group where United could now source the best players from across the world.
“In the beginning, you come in as a first-year player, and they were signing players, so it was difficult to get minutes, but it was also amazing because I was training every day with the world’s best players. Paul Pogba was there, Jesse Lingard was there, all these guys I was training with every single day. And it made me a better player.
“When we were there on scholarship, we used to be there and experience the first team, have lunch with them, interact with them—it was a real eye-opener as well for us because now we were really getting close to hitting the goals that we set ourselves as kids, to get the dream that we desired from such a young age.
“The training definitely used to be intense. I think the pressure then starts to double, it starts to get amplified. I could see there’s only a couple of months left here, and emotions would really kick in to the point where I was nearly in tears; I wanted it so much.”
Gorre was still catching the eye throughout his two-year scholarship, but it was obvious that he was not quite up to the same high standards as some of the better players in his age group.
To have any chance of making it at United, he would not only need to be one of the very best in his age group, but the young winger would also have to do enough to dislodge one of the first-teamers in his position.
It is perhaps no surprise that he didn’t manage to do that.
“My coach, Paul McGuinness said to me, ‘the boss wants to speak to you’, and I was like, ‘wow, what’s going on here? I’m going into the office’.
“So I knocked on the door, and Sir Alex said, ‘come on, son, come in. Kenji, first of all, I appreciate you, and I appreciate you as a man. You’ve had an amazing 10 years here, and I can give you a contract right now, but I know that’s not going to do you any good’. And that’s when he started to share with me how there were a lot of guys in front of me.
“He started naming names like Andreas Pereira, Adnan Januzaj, Nani, and all these guys who were ahead of me at that time. And then he said, ‘I know that you’re not going to get the game time that you deserve, and I know the quality that you’ve got. This is the right time for you to move on, and I want to thank you for your 10 years of being here’.
“I remember shaking his hand and saying thank you so much, and then I shut the door behind me. And I remember going downstairs, getting into my car, and I just burst out crying. I just let it all out.
“I remember feeling like I’d let everyone down. I’ve let my parents down, who have sacrificed their lives for me; that’s how it felt. It was so heavy. And I can remember not knowing who I was anymore. What was I going to tell my friends? They knew me as Kenji Gorre, the guy that played for Manchester United, and I’d been that guy since I was six years old. Now I’m 18, and I don’t know who I am.”
It’s a story familiar to thousands of youngsters all across the world who must come to terms with the harsh reality of a childhood dream coming abruptly to an end.
Gorre was fortunate to have a father who knew all about that pain and hardship. And the very next day, he was on hand to give him a piece of advice that would change his life forever.
“I remember the next morning, my dad was making breakfast downstairs, and the music was on. He was just making his breakfast, and then he said to me, ‘sit down. Listen to me. When one door closes, another one opens’.
“And that’s when my shoulders just went down, and it was exactly what I needed at that time. He said, ‘where do you want to go?’, and that’s when my whole perspective changed, and I thought, ‘where do I want to go? What is it that I want? What do I desire? Where is it that I want to play?’.
“That’s when I took a pen and went down through every team that was below United, and I thought, where am I going to break through into this first team? I remember looking at West Ham and thinking there were quite a lot of guys there. I looked at a couple of other teams and looked at Swansea, thinking there were pretty lit: Nathan Dyer on one side, Wayne Routledge on the left. Thinking about this team is hard, but I’d love to play there! I remember looking at their U23s and thinking what wingers would be ahead of me, and I remember saying to my dad that this team would be perfect.”
Gorre also went for a trial with Celtic but didn’t do enough to convince Neil Lennon that he was worthy of a deal. It was a difficult time for the teenager as he looked to rebuild his bruised confidence.
He’d also had a spell with Everton, which went a lot better. But, once again, they opted against offering a contract to the young hopeful.
“I remember looking at Everton and thinking I would really suit the team there as well. And shortly after, I went on trial at Everton. I remember my confidence just being knocked out after being released by Manchester United, but I was ready to go and show how good I was.
“I had some fire inside me, and I was going to show the world just how good I am. And I remember going into training, and it was the best that I’ve ever trained, the best I’ve ever played. And I remember Darron Gibson coming over to me after training and saying, ‘don’t worry, you’re going to get a deal, bro’, and he even went to the coach and said, ‘sign him!’.
After that knock, I was thinking I was actually a good player because I’d started to doubt myself and feel like I wasn’t good enough. I started to question, ‘am I going to make it?’.
“And I can remember that after the week that I trained with them, the coach then came to me and said, ‘we’re not going to offer you a contract’. I remember getting in the car with my dad, and I was mad-confused! I was like, ‘huh? Seriously?!’ I just didn’t get it, but I was so confident, and I’d taken so much away from that time that I was thinking I’ve already gained here.”
It was to be a sliding doors moment. Even though he didn’t sign a deal with Everton, his failed trial would set the ball rolling for him to join the Swansea side he had been eyeing up himself just weeks earlier.
“It was crazy because there was also someone else on that trial, and there was an agent there as well, and they had watched that training session, and that agent ended up going to Swansea and saying, ‘you need to sign this guy’. And from there, the next week, I signed a two-year deal with Swansea.”
Gorre would go on to make his Premier League debut while at Swansea, the reward for his impressive form for the club’s Under-21 side, where he scored 18 times and provided 10 assists.
However, things never really worked out. He had loan spells with ADO Den Haag and Northampton, before leaving to join Portuguese side Nacional at the end of his contract.
He is now playing regular football in the Portuguese top flight with Boavista and has been capped at international level by Curaçao, which he qualifies for through his mother.
It is a world away from those early days in Manchester, but now he has found a place where he belongs and is able to make a living as a professional in the game he only ever dreamed of playing.
Leaving United might have felt like the end of his football journey at the time, but the truth is that it was only the beginning of another.
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