How learning the ‘Man United way’ shaped career of Bristol City’s new leading man

His early grounding at Old Trafford has helped shape him for the remainder of his career
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Bristol City midfielder Matty James has credited his leadership qualities to ex-club Manchester United, where he was taught ‘the Man United way.’

James moved through the ranks at the Red Devils’ academy, and cemented a place in their reserve side in the 2008-09 season. The midfielder signed his first professional contract at the club in 2009, at the age of 18, but was loaned out to Preston North End less than a year later, where he would stay for two years before completing a permanent move to Leicester City.

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Unfortunately for James, he was ruled out for the Foxes Premier League winning season of 2015/16 after he ruptured his anterior ligaments. He has since had spells at Barnsley and Coventry City, but is now an integral part of the Robins’ set up.

He captained the side in their midweek victory over West Bromwich Albion, and despite not featuring for the Red Devils’ senior side, he believes his time in Manchester helped build him into the leader he is today.

“Certainly my upbringing at Man United was a big thing in that, I was kind of pushed through and you had to lead even in a younger role,” he said.

“If you’re in the reserves and you’re on a scholarship or you’re an under-18 they still expect the leadership qualities to be there, so I think it’s just something that has been drilled upon me from a young age.”

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‘Pushed through’ is perhaps an understatement from James, who made his debut for the under-18 side when he was just 14. The leadership demands weren’t just on the pitch either, as behind the scenes tasks and responsibilities were a big part of representing one of the biggest clubs in the world.

He said: “They just believe in you as well, that’s one of the key things, it’s hard to explain the Man United way that I certainly had, it was very humbling. You had jobs to do, if the jobs were not done right there were small consequences and it’s the standards that are drilled into you, the standards then create your own leadership inside your little group.”

“So even at Under-18 level if someone was not doing something right and you’re all being seen by the first team to not be doing your job correctly then you’re going to say something because you want that to be perceived in a good light.”

The high demands of himself and his peers have followed him throughout his career, and the 31-year-old was named captain by Nigel Pearson in the Robins’ 2-0 victory over the Baggies on Tuesday. Club captain Daniel Bentley has had to settle for a place on the bench in recent matches, as Max O’Leary has been preferred of late, and James reflected on what was a special moment for himself personally.

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He explained: “It’s a great honour to wear it and I respect the decision that the gaffer made, I enjoy wearing it. Whenever I’m called upon, I’ll try and lead the team whether I’ve got it on or not.”

Andi Weimann was named captain for both games prior to their midweek win, but James made a solid claim to retain the armband for Saturday’s clash with Reading. However, the match was James’ first back after a brief spell sidelined with a groin injury which required surgery, therefore Pearson may decide to rest the Lancashire born midfielder.

Now into his 30’s, the number six may be starting to think about life after professional football. Fellow veteran midfielder Andy King has recently moved into a player-coach role at the West Country side, which is a route that James may be willing to explore in the future.

“I think it will be separate from here, my main focus is now on playing but it’s something that in the future I’ve thought about,” he said.

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“Coaching badges and things like that, it does interest me, certainly that side of it, the coaching role and just being involved in football because it’s all I know really, so it is something that i do look into and i think I’ll cross that bridge as and when, I’ll focus on the playing now.”

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