Manchester United FC defender Tom Thorpe, a U17 winner with England in 2010, captained the U19s to the semi-finals last summer and discusses his experiences with club and country.
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No country has won the UEFA European Under-19 Championship two years after clinching the U17 title, but England came close last summer.
Having taken the junior crown in Liechtenstein in 2010, much of the same squad went to Estonia in July for a shot at the U19 prize. Noel Blake's team topped their group ahead of France, but in the semi-finals fell 2-1 to Greece in extra time. Manchester United FC defender Tom Thorpe, part of both the 2010 and 2012 sides and captain of the U19s in Estonia, visited Nyon last month to receive the Fair Play prize on behalf of his team.
The 19-year-old spoke to UEFA.com about the summer and his career at United, who included him in their squad for the recent UEFA Champions League fixture at Galatasaray AŞ.
UEFA.com: How was the experience of captaining England in Estonia last summer?
Tom Thorpe: It was brilliant, actually. I wasn't expecting the captaincy, but I was more than happy to have it. And altogether I think we did really well. Unfortunately we lost the [semi-final] against Greece, and unfortunately we didn't get to the final, but it was a great experience and we were happy to be there.
UEFA.com: You have captained at Manchester United as well – what qualities do you think make you a captain?
Thorpe: Well, I captained United when we won the [2011 FA] Youth Cup, which was also a great honour. But I think it doesn't really matter who is the captain on the pitch. I think you can have many, but as long as you communicate, help others, encourage: that's what the role entails.
UEFA.com: What was the semi-final like?
Thorpe: It was a tough game. It was a good experience with the crowd, as well, a good atmosphere, there were a lot there. It was a tough game to play, it was a tough game against Greece, but unfortunately we didn't win.
UEFA.com: The Fair Play prize: is it good, as a symbol of what England achieved last summer, to get that prize?
Thorpe: Yes, I was very happy to come and receive it. [We] played the game very fairly, I believe, and it's shown. Yes, it's sad that it's not the main trophy, but I am always happy to receive one.
UEFA.com: With England you played another final tournament in Liechtenstein when you won the U17 title in 2010. What was that experience like?
Thorpe: It was great, really brilliant. It was quite a similar squad to Estonia – where we hoped to maybe do the double, but it wasn't to be. But it was a great experience in Liechtenstein, good games there, and we are proud to be the victors.
UEFA.com: What have you learned from the England coaches, John Peacock in 2010, Kenny Swain, and Noel Blake?
Thorpe: We've definitely learned a lot. It helped us bond together. Depending which club you come from there is always a different style of play, but it's very easy to adjust to and it's playing the right way. So yes, it is great to have coaches like that, that help you integrate together.
UEFA.com: Because of what you did in Estonia, England will go to Turkey for the FIFA U-20 World Cup next summer. Are you looking forward to that?
Thorpe: Yes, hopefully I'll be in the squad for that. And hopefully, whoever goes, the lads can put on a good show for England and, who knows, maybe go on to win.
UEFA.com: Have you had experience of playing South American or African teams?
Thorpe: Only at club level. We've not really played many at international level, but [have played] a few European tournaments at club level as well as a few South American teams. It's definitely a different style of play. You have to get used to it and learn to cope with it.
UEFA.com: How has playing in UEFA tournaments helped you at club level?
Thorpe: It gives you good experience, because playing against English teams every week you sometimes get the same styles. But definitely internationally you get a different style, and you have to cope, you have to learn to cope, because it's a different way of playing.
UEFA.com: You were part of the United squad that travelled to Istanbul ...
Thorpe: Yes, it was a great experience, especially to go to Galatasaray, it's a very hostile place. And it was a good learning curve for the lot of us who went, a lot of the younger players, even though some of us didn't play. It was still great to be there, great to be around the squad. And we learned a lot.
UEFA.com: As a club, there has always been a history that Sir Alex Ferguson gives younger players a chance to experience the first-team squad ...
Thorpe: Yes, definitely. You know that if you're good enough, if you put the work in, he'll trust you. There is a chance there for a lot of the younger players. So it's not that hard to be able to see whether the boss will give you the chance – if you're good enough, he will.
UEFA.com: What advice would you give younger players in order to prepare for two or three weeks away at a junior tournament, and for playing lots of matches in a short period against top opposition?
Thorpe: Just keep your mindset right, because it could be a long tournament. That is one of the key factors; if you concentrate and you plan the simple things, like eating right and getting to bed early, you might not think it makes much of a difference, but it actually does. And hopefully you'll go a long way in the tournament, hopefully go on to win it, and stick together as a team.