Mfanelo is one of the young fans who will travel thousands of miles to be a mascot for the Red Devils' opening game of the season as part of a Chevrolet initiative
Sixteen years ago, Wayne Rooney was a 12-year-old boy who played for Everton’s academy team and dreamt of becoming a professional footballer. He watched the 1998 World Cup and has named Ronaldo as one of his favourite players ever since.
Now, at 28, the 12-year-olds want to be like him. Rooney idolised the Brazilian striker as he toured Serie A and La Liga, hundreds of miles from Croxteth, Liverpool; these days, a new generation of young fans from Africa, Asia and the Americas are even further away from their European football heroes.
Mfanelo Mabale names Rooney as his idol despite living more than 13,000 kilometres from Old Trafford in Johannesburg, South Africa, but the new Manchester United captain will become more than his favourite goalscorer on television on Saturday.
When United’s league season kicks off against Swansea, Mfanelo will walk out with Rooney and his team-mates at the Theatre of Dreams as a mascot.
Just like Rooney, who made his debut for Everton at 16 and became the youngest player to play for England a few months later, Mfanelo is one of the youngest - and smallest - players on his school football team.
He has been brought up by his grandparents since his parents separated when he was seven years old, and money has not always been available for football equipment.
Mfanelo’s strategy for overcoming such difficulties is much the same as Rooney’s. “The bigger ones think I’m not the best player,” he says. “I play harder because I’m the smallest one.”
Mfanelo will come to Old Trafford as part of the new ‘What Do You #PlayFor?’ campaign launched by United’s new shirt sponsors, Chevrolet, to watch the Red Devils play their first competitive match under Louis van Gaal.
Though Luke Shaw is likely to miss out due to injury, he will catch a glimpse of the club’s other major new signing, midfielder Ander Herrera, as Rooney leads out the new-look XI.
Chevrolet are aiming to celebrate play and inspire the world football community by working with coaches and players living in areas of the globe where the game is needed the most.
Earlier this year, Chevrolet revealed the new Bawet Event Pitch in Bandung, Indonesia, revitalised on behalf of local organisation Rumah Cemara. They use football and peer intervention to increase the quality of life of people living with HIV and drug addiction.
On that occasion, Gary Pallister attended the unveiling and Chevrolet will be travelling with United legends to work with players and coaches in developing regions worldwide.
Chevrolet are also collaborating with the One World Futbol Project to bring the power of play to children around the world by donating and distributing 1.5 million nearly indestructible footballs to organisations working in developing communities.
The sponsored One World Futbols have been delivered to more than 55 countries, affecting the lives of an estimated 21 million kids and like Mfanelo and Rooney, bringing them a little bit closer to their role models.