Angel Gomes has explained that he left Manchester United to sign for Lille in the summer because he craved “happiness” in his football career.
The winger was rarely used under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Old Trafford, so when his contract expired he departed the club for France.
Lille moved him to Boavista on loan, and since moving to Portugal he has played regularly and has won critical acclaim for his displays.
While he admits that leaving United – a club he had been with 14 years – was tough, he says it was a necessary step for his personal development.
“It’s such a special club but I just wanted to be able to play and express myself,” he told The Independent.
“I was offered a great contract, I had all my family and friends around me, but I decided that I was willing to sacrifice that to pursue a different path. It’s hard to understand how difficult a decision that was.
“I’m still a United fan. I still watch every game now, whether it’s the first team or the U18s. I could have stayed and gone out on loan but it just felt like I needed a fresh start.”
He says that it was Lille sporting director Luis Campos that swung him on moving to France.
“We spoke for a couple of hours, he knew me inside-out as a player, and he showed me his plan. It was exactly what I needed to hear,” Gomes says. “In the first year, he wanted me to go to Boavista, it’d be a clean slate and I spoke to the manager there and loved his ideas.
“I didn’t see it as a step back, I saw it as my chance to kick on. I didn’t want to go somewhere and have that label of being a youngster. I wanted to play 90 minutes, have an important role, and show what I can do.”
Although Boavista are having a difficult season, it’s a challenge he is relishing.
“It’s actually quite refreshing,” he says. “A year ago, I would never have thought I’d be in this position, but I’m really enjoying it. The manager just wants me to always be on the ball and involved in the game and that’s perfect for me. I’m ambitious and I’m excited about what’s ahead, to carry on like how I’ve started, and go back to Lille full of confidence.”
Gomes made his Man Utd debut at 16 but was unable to kick on and secure a regular first-team spot. He admits that it was difficult to keep his head up when he wasn't playing as much as he wanted at Old Trafford.
“Football is like a rollercoaster and I went through a lot of highs," Gomes said. "I had the right people around me and I stayed grounded, but when you hit a few lows it starts to build up on you. It can be hard to show your emotions and you’ve got to just keep giving your all in training [even though you’re not playing].
"But when you go home, deep down you know you’re not quite the same as normal. I’m usually very bubbly and your family notice those little changes in you. I wanted to get back to where I was and find happiness in my football.”