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From Going Viral by Chance to Training with Manchester United – Meet Nutmeg King Tom Nolan

By: Abhimanyu Sen

News18 Sports

Last Updated: August 17, 2020, 16:28 IST

Tom Nolan in action (Image: Tom Nolan)

Tom Nolan in action (Image: Tom Nolan)

A star-struck Nolan went on to impress the likes of Michael Carrick and forged a friendship with Juan Mata and Scott McTominay.

Tom Nolan was attending a regular sports theory lesson in 2017 when he noticed a missed call and a message on his phone enquiring if he’d be interested in working with Adidas on a shoot. The director, who like many others had seen his videos on social media, had asked the 17-year-old to replace one of the cast because he had “called in sick.”

Little did Nolan know it would be the first step in a journey that would take the life-long Red Devils fan all the way to LA along with the Manchester United team.

Instructed to be part of a passing drill better known as the Rondo, Nolan recollects not touching the ball initially – the lull before the storm - before executing one of the toughest tricks in football with panache.

“I always said to everyone I met at these things who asked what I did that I’d be interested in eventually doing an ad if they needed an extra person, I didn’t know who was who and what the people I was talking to did so I kept mentioning it hoping the right person would hear!”

“It (my first advert) was a complete fluke. Adidas had this shoot and I was a backup boy, filling up the numbers because someone had called in sick. Everyone was passing it around and no one knew me and they were all wondering who this new person is.”

“Someone got closed down and they passed it to me and I was like I am going for it, so I flip flapped the ball through the guy’s leg. And it had everyone screaming and running all over the place,” Nolan, who is better known as TNFreestyle, explained.

The nutmeg is often considered to be among the embarrassing skills a footballer can fall prey to. However, it put Nolan in the box seat as the director changed the whole plan after his audacious attempt.

“So I went from not supposed to be there to they made the whole advert around my skill. From then, I started making progress through the ranks and then slowly at 18 I signed a professional contract with them.”

“It was kind of a lucky day because all the others were professionals in that space and I was the kid who had just shown up. But thank god I didn’t get nutmegged because I’d have to delete everything.”

“It kind of snowballed from there with Adidas.”

Technically superior to most while growing up in Luton, Nolan’s ride up until then had not been easy. Having given up conventional football at the age of 14 because he wasn’t very happy about the gruelling expectations from friends and family, Nolan chose to go the freestyle path and married it with his abilities.

“It was becoming too serious too young and I stopped. But I kept training. I trained more than ever after when I stopped playing for a team.”

After lots of training and plenty of prodding from his friends, Nolan’s first freestyle video hit the internet much against his wishes.

“All my mates encouraged me to make a video like I was thinking having followed the F2 so closely over the years but it was never supposed to be put out anywhere until my mother posted it on her social media.”

“I was 15 and I was feeling rather embarrassed. She said, 'Tommy it’s got 20-thousand views'. So my mum introduced me to social media. If my mum did not post it, TNFreestyle wouldn’t be there.”

Nolan’s videos started going viral on the internet and which led to him being noticed not only by Adidas, who signed him up on their talent books, but also his idols The F2.

“When I started working with Adidas, they introduced me to The F2 and eventually it came to a point where people started connecting me to them because of the videos with them. Billy and Jeremy (Billy Wingrove and Jeremy Lynch) were also really helpful as they were very encouraging and helped me in the initially (initial) years too.”

In 2016, the then 16-year old was invited to meet Paul Pogba at an Adidas event. They were doing a promotion for his transfer to Manchester United.

“When Pogba returned to Manchester United from Juventus in 2016, Adidas had a celebration of sorts for him. I had a conversation with him and I was completely star-struck as at this point.

Tom Nolan in conversation with Juan Mata during a Manchester United training session in Los Angeles in 2018. (Image: Tom Nolan)

“I wasn’t doing it (freestyle) for a job and had no real experience in the game so after just telling him what I do and some motivating words from him he goes and gets a bag and just gives it to me and it was a pair of match-worn Champions League boots.”

“I thought if Pogba said I can do this means I can do this. I still have not checked my college results, that’s how committed I am to this.”

A couple of years later, in the summer of 2018, Pogba’s life changed forever and so did Nolan’s as they both ticked off a couple of important achievements.

Pogba won the World Cup with France in Russia in style and Nolan, who in the last couple of years had built up quite a following with his videos, was on a flight with the Manchester United first team for their pre-season in Los Angeles.

“I couldn’t believe it at the time (it was) just surreal. The whole thing is easily my best life experience ever.”

“Getting the call saying I’m going to LA with Manchester United, and that whole experience. It really is once in a lifetime stuff that money can’t buy.”

A star-struck Nolan went on to impress the likes of Michael Carrick and forged a friendship with Juan Mata and Scott McTominay.

“Mata is the nicest man in football. He was a lot of help when I was there. He was my favourite to work with in that squad. He always kept checking on me and even in training he was wicked to work with.”

The Spaniard, impressed by Nolan’s talent, offered some words of wisdom to help his journey.

“He came and spoke to me and said ‘look you’ve got a talent, keep working hard and you’ll make it to the top.’”

Nolan returned from the trip more motivated than ever and has not looked back since. With a following of over 200,000 which is increasing by the hour, Nolan has nutmegged his way into the freestyle football industry.

View this post on Instagram

@SoccerAM top bins!✅ #DareToCreate

A post shared by Tom Nolan (@tnfreestyle) on

“I count myself lucky to be safe and able to train every day. I posted the Soccer AM video in December and that has been my biggest ever.”

“Off the back of that I had a few new opportunities and on paper it was set to be the best year for TNF, plenty of doors had opened for me. Everything was planned for the spring and summer and anything I had planned with the PL players got postponed as well.

“But I am practicing more and I want to come out of this better and not use this as an excuse.” ​
first published:August 17, 2020, 16:20 IST
last updated:August 17, 2020, 16:28 IST