What Sir Alex Ferguson Did When An 18-Year-Old Knocked On His Door Asking For A Trial
After Max Lonsdale was released by Macclesfield Town as a youngster in 2011, he did quite the opposite of resting on his laurels. He went live and direct to the greatest manager in English football history, Sir Alex Ferguson, and asked for a trial.
Lonsdale had lived in Spain and played in the Malaga youth ranks until he moved back to England when he was 13 and joined Macclesfield at the same age.
He turned out in the Silkmen's academy until the age of 18, doing a YTS scholarship with the club and playing in competitions such as the FA Youth Cup.
He left the financial-stricken club, with Macclesfield having more interest in big centre-backs and target men despite Lonsdale, a technically sound midfield player, winning the Player of the Season in his second year in the youth team.
But instead of waiting for an opportunity to arrive, Lonsdale used his initiative. He spent a couple of weeks putting together a DVD of four Macclesfield youth games that had been filmed, with every touch captured in the footage.
Aware that Manchester United had been keeping tabs, and a big believer that he was equipped for a higher standard of football, he decided to cut out all the middle-men and go straight to Sir Alex.
He told SPORTbible: "I lived in Alderley Edge at the time and Ferguson lived in Wilmslow, which is like two minutes away. I had a good friend who lived near him and knew which one his house was. I just thought, 'Why try and send a DVD to the club when it's going to get no-where near? Why not just rock up myself and know he'd watch it?'.
"It's probably out of character for me, I'm not the most bold person but when it comes down to it I'm willing to do that, especially when it's your dream I suppose.
"I went down on the Friday and his wife was actually there and she let me in. Fergie wasn't actually in - he was away for the next day on a golfing trip so she said, 'Here's his number, give him a ring tomorrow. He should be back around tea-time.'
"The next day I rang him and explained I'd been around yesterday. The first thing he said was, 'How the fuck have you got my number?!'.
"Obviously I was a bit taken aback by that but after I explained it he was alright after that and said, 'Yeah come round'. I drove around to his and had a good chat - he spoke to me about my football past, my injuries and said he'd watch it [the DVD] and get back to me.
"Three days later I got a call off one of the United first-team coaches to say they liked what I'd seen and [asked] would I be willing to go down for a trial."
Lonsdale had gone above and beyond to seek his opportunity, doing something that no-one had ever done before.
"I think he [Sir Alex] probably liked the boldness of it and he said to me at the time, 'If you don't look good enough we're not going to take you on but I'll let you know either way," he added.
"He said when I came into training the first day, 'I've given you an opportunity because I like what I've seen.' He genuinely wanted to give me an opportunity which was really good on his part.
"He's very intimidating when you're speaking directly to him but a big presence and a lovely guy at the same time."
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Lonsdale had an initial two-week trial that was then extended to the point he was there for six weeks, featuring in five reserve games and plying his trade with future United first-teamers Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, as well as Ravel Morrison; the promising prodigy who he says was "head and shoulders above everyone" but didn't have the mentality required.
He thought everything pointed towards him getting that all-important contract but the presence of Matty James, Oliver Norwood and Danny Drinkwater, who all went on to be Premier League players, prevented that from happening.
"It was just an unbelievable experience," Lonsdale added.]
"I went around the UK playing in all different stadiums and to be honest I thought I was going to get signed - that was the indication I got from the staff. I'd been waiting a few lads to leave on loan or on permanent deals: Matty James, Oliver Norwood and Danny Drinkwater were meant to be leaving.
"At the time I was only 18 and wasn't ready to play first-team football but what they couldn't do was draft another lad in to just play reserve football for the next two years until he makes it or not.
"In the end they didn't have the space to offer me a full-time contract which was obviously devastating but they asked Doncaster to sign me up so I went to play for them. All the lads [at United] were great and I loved every second of it.
"I was driving a Fiesta at the time and pulling up to training next to the young lads driving Range Rovers and I think to take that all in was quite difficult but there were no big-timers; everyone shook my hand and got on with me. It was a great experience."
Lonsdale impressed at Doncaster and was on the verge of signing before a horrific injury left him on the sidelines for a lengthy spell.
A change of manager meant he wasn't fancied, while he was never the same after tearing his ligaments, deciding to pack in football completely at the age of just 21.
"I was literally about to sign with Doncaster and during a game against Burton I tore the ligaments in my ankle and snapped it. I did all my rehab at Doncaster for the next six to twelve months and then Sean O'Driscoll, who was the gaffer at the time, ended up getting sacked.
"I think it was Paul Dickov came in and I couldn't continue my rehab after that. He'd never seen me play, wasn't bothered and had his own plans. That was it.
"After that I was never really right, my ankle was just knackered. I tried playing a bit of non-league football but I pretty much knocked football on the head after that.
"I had opportunities with Ipswich and Burnley and as they were materialising I'd just get injured in games and I just got a bit mentally drained."
Though his dream died, Lonsdale was eager to forge a career in something else and his interest in marketing and social media sparked it all.
Having met a business partner and pitched for investment, he is now the Operations Director of a social agency based in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
The 26-year old's alternative path has worked out brilliantly but he does feel more needs to be done for young players on these shores who don't make the grade - and says adopting the United States model is worthwhile.
"I think more needs to be done because lads are being taken out of school at a young age and not really given a proper education. Now uni and education is such a big part of getting jobs and to be honest I don't think that's the way it should be, but it's the way the world is at the moment.
"Football just takes you away from all of that and leaves you with no real options if football doesn't work out - even at levels like Macclesfield Town for example, who were in League Two at the time.
"You're getting a BTEC out of it but a BTEC's not really A-Level or degree standard education so I definitely think more needs to be done - maybe adopting the American style of scholarships. There definitely needs to be a change for me."
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