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HEAD: KEEP ON MOVING

HEAD: KEEP ON MOVING
Moving away is scary and exciting and usually takes a little time for your old feet to get used to new ground. Different languages, different food, different viewpoints. Moving away has been a big part of Joel Latibeaudiere’s life so far. Moving away from Doncaster to Manchester. Moving away from centre midfield to centre back. Moving away from Manchester City to FC Twente. Moving away from centre back to right back. He’s been moving a lot. And, well, he’s absolutely loving it.

On 28th October 2017 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium in Kolkata, India, Joel Latibeaudiere stood on a podium with a bunch of his mates, got handed a trophy, and jumped up and down. He’d just captained England to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in front of 66,684 people. Joel and his mates had conquered the world. And, over two years later, he still sounds like he’s on that podium when talking about the game. “Ah man,” he tells me “it was just the best feeling. Ever.”

Joel grew up in Doncaster and played football for local team Armsfold Rovers until Leeds scouted him when he was just eight years old. At this point, Joel was playing centre midfield, and Steven Gerrard was his hero. “I always looked up to Steven Gerrard”, Joel says animatedly “it was the way he drove the whole team forward”. Gerrard made things happen. And so did Joel.

Joel had been noticed by Manchester City, and at 13 moved to the club and the city. It was here that he began his transition to centre back. Someone got injured, Joel slotted backwards, and the coaches and everyone watching went “woah, hang on”. As a player as aggressive in the tackle as he is, but as light on his feet as he is afterwards, it makes sense. You watch Virgil play centre half, and it looks fun. Cool. Creative. Interesting. Watching Joel does that too.

“I could see the whole game in front of me,” Joel tells me about his first time playing there. “I was organising naturally, and the coaches saw that I could see things and move other players, and myself, into the right position. And then when I was on the ball, I was creating things and going forward and everything.” It worked. Joel moved to centre back. He became captain of that U17 team. They won the World Cup.
Growing up, his dad was always his biggest critic, always there with arms around him for comfort, and words around him to make sure he always pushed himself. Joel pushed and pushed and pushed, and those arms and words are still around him now, over in Enschede in the east of the Netherlands. With first team chances at Manchester City at a premium, and a posterior cruciate ligament injury taking him away from the pitch for almost a whole season, Joel moved on loan to FC Twente.

“To be honest I was excited to come out here and get my opportunity”, Joel tells me. “I was a little bit nervous at first because it’s a different country, but I knew it was the right thing to do. My family came out with me at first for a couple of days. And then, when they left, I think it really hit me that I was actually doing this. But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Off the pitch, Joel’s eyes have lit up at the pastries in the bakeries that line the Dutch town’s streets. On the pitch, he’s scored, assisted, and begun to make the right back position his own.

Joel’s been moving around. Cities, countries, positions. And, with young English players seemingly being given more opportunities than ever before at the moment, expect him to move into your conscious a lot more in the upcoming seasons. When Joel moved to centre half at City, it was Vincent Kompany who replaced Steven Gerrard as his hero. A centre midfielder who moved to centre half. City could do with someone like that at the back right now, wouldn’t you say? I reckon you would say.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Jack Johnstone
WORDS: James Bird