By Jamie Thomas
From watching football on telly as a starry-eyed toddler with his dad, first playing football at six years of age, Wales Under-16s forward Chris Popov is now on the books at one of the biggest clubs in world football, leading the line for his country and has his sights set on the future.
A member of the Manchester United academy and a regular for his country after coming through the ranks for Wales since he was 11 years old, the now-15-year-old Popov discussed his progress in football so far and his love for the game.
“I couldn’t have imagined I was going to have these experiences by now. I’ve always had aspirations and goals to do well in football, it’s been my dream all my life, and my family has been really supportive of me throughout. My mum, dad, grandad and grandma have all been massively supportive of me and helped me so much.
“When I was in Cardiff I wasn’t thinking about going anywhere though, I just loved football, loved playing, and wanted to do as well as I could and now I’m playing for my country and for Manchester United, which is amazing, but it shows what you can do if you’re passionate about something and you work as hard as you can.
“You play football because you enjoy it, don’t you? The most important thing is to enjoy it and to have fun, then anything that comes afterwards is a bonus. If you want to achieve big things you have to give your best every day, but you have to enjoy the experience too and enjoy this time playing football with your friends.”
After starting his footballing journey in Cardiff, Popov moved to Manchester as an 11-year-old to join Manchester United’s academy, but before that he received a very important letter in the post, inviting him to be a part of the regional development squad a year young.
The now lofty forward recalled being given the opportunity to train with much bigger and stronger players as a young boy for his country, and how much his experience with the national set-up means to him.
“Before I moved to Manchester I got a letter in the post saying I was picked for the Welsh regional squads a year up, and it was hard, they were all massive compared to me, but I worked as hard as I could and had loads of support from my parents and my coaches, and since then I’ve loved every minute and been very proud to represent my country.
“Cian Ashford is also in the squad now, I’ve known him since I was six years old and we were at Cardiff together, but even though we play for separate clubs now we’ve stayed close because of Wales and we’ve played together in internationals and in competitions like the Victory Shield, so that is really cool, and the whole journey has just been amazing really.”
Playing for Manchester United at such a young age is naturally a dream for the young forward, who admits to having been ‘starstruck’ in his early days at the club, but now he is settled for both his club and his country and focussed on achieving his dreams.
“I have big goals, I want to go as far as I can for both club and country. I don’t know if I’ll ever play for Manchester United or Wales’ first team, but hopefully if I keep working hard, doing what my coaches tell me, doing extra stuff away from the club, then maybe I will – I don’t know.
“That’s my dream, that’s where I want to go, since watching football on telly with my family as a young boy, I’ve always wanted to play professional football, and hopefully one day I will.
“Players like Tyler Roberts, Harry Wilson, all of those players have been in the Victory Shield like me years ago and now they’re playing professionally for big clubs and for Wales, so if they can do it I believe I can too and I’m ready to work as hard as I can to get there.”CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HOW WE'RE DEVELOPING THE NEXT GENERATION