Timothy Fosu-Mensah (18) gets paid well. He’s a raw diamond with everything to dream for. His brother Alfons (22) struggless at North Ferriby United and isn’t understood. Two brothers, together but also apart… From the Xmas special of VI.
Sale, the southern satelite town of Manchester. A typical street. It’s getting dark and in this particular home, the only light illuminating the living room is coming from the TV. Tim and Alfons Fosu-Mensah are on the couch, watching football. Don’t think it’s a coincidence. Fons: “This TV only broadcasts football, hahaha. Go and switch channels, I dare you: South American, Australian, Italian, the sandy desert. Whenever a ball rolls somewhere, Tim and I are watching. That’s how it was when we were young and it’s still like that.”
When you and pimpled, the brothers watched football on TV whenever they weren’t out playing themselves. Watching Ajax (they lived in De Bijlmer, a poor area in Amsterdam East, watching the Dutch team and all European games they could find. Dreaming of a life as pro player themselves. That fantasy became reality for both. But that’s where the comparison stops.
Timothy has played Europa Cup football for Manchester United on Old Trafford. Tim has been seen hanging off Zlatan’s shoulders after a goal. On the way to that game, he was reading Zlatan’s biography. Again. He played with team mate Daley Blind. The guy who gave him his first football boots years ago when Timothy was but a ball boy, and Daley played in Ajax 1. “They were a size too small already,” Timothy smiles, “but I kept them. They were my first real boots!”
And now, Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive player, is his friend. And only yesterday, he showered next to Wayne Rooney, David de Gea and Juan Mata. Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho only have positive things to say about him. Meanwhile, Alfons was playing on a rough surface in East Yorkshire, watching all the balls flying over his head, apparently aimed at the river Humber.
Alfons plays for United as well. North Ferriby United, to be precise. Hij plays with two bricklayers, a car mechanic and a couple of students.
The Daily Mail hails Fosu-Mensah: “He’s strong as an ox and highly skilled. A player with everything he needs to become a Man United icon!”. Asked about Alfons, the North Ferriby United PR man says: “Alfons. We haven’t seen a lot of him, to be honest.”
Two worlds come together in that house in Sale. In front of the house: a second hand Peugeot and a slick black Mercedes. Alfons: “I sometimes get to take the Merc. So cool, driving it to the club. Tim? No, he won’t take the Peugeot, he than grabs his grey Mercedes.”
They played together for years on the street. “There were always amazing young players, the brother tz were always there. Queensy Menig (Ajax player on loan at PEC Zwolle) and Brandley Kuwas too (Heracles). Tim is younger than us, but I’d take him with me, as this level would teach him to man up,” smiles Alfons. “But I didn’t want him in my team. He never tracked back, he was only up front with the ball, dribbling. I always said: man, you gotta put in the work too.” They played a lot together too, just the two of them. Practicing. “I was his first coach. There were always dads doing this and criticising and yelling. Not my style. I taught Tim to use both feet. We did this for hours, playing the pass with his weaker foot. And long and longer distances. I had him dribble, sprint, do shimmies and tricks, finishing, everything.”
Timothy smiles, remembering it all. “He was the best coach, always positive. Whenever I made a mistake, he made me do it again and again, just to help me develop. But things went quick.” Alfons: “I just wanted to help him, as he was my little brother, but I also saw he had that knack. He was special already. He can make it big. So we put the time and effort in.”
And before they knew it, the student was better than the master. Timothy: “Hahaha, I know right? I was 12 years old, we did a 2 v 2 match and I was up against Alfons, and I nutmegged him, Perfect, in between the sticks, hahaha.” Alfons: “Yeah well, I was wrongfooted, just for a second. Pretty bad, but this was the moment where I thought: hmmm, my little brother has the best of me….”
And now Alfons watches his little brother from the stands at Old Trafford. “And I still see him do things we practiced in Amsterdam, on the streets. And I think: well done brother! We spent hours working on this and that basic skills, that ball technique, he got that from the street. The foundation was laid there.”
The door opens and another young Dutch player enters. Rodney Kongolo, younger brother of Terence Kongolo of Feyenoord. He’s a player for Man City. The two played against each other since they were 6 years old. Rodney for Feyenoord, Timothy for Ajax. The two rivals have become firm friends. Kongolo’s impressive technique allow him to walk through the room, eyes on his iPhone, while avoiding all the obstacles on the floor. It’s a bit messy, there’s train tickets, cups, football trophies, coins, unopened bills and pizza folders. It looks like a shared student accomodation. “Ah no, usually it is nicely managed. My dad lives with us, and cooks and does our washing etc. But he’s back in Holland for a couple of weeks so… I now pick up food from Man United at times or I go and cook myself.” Alfons: “But if Tim goes to the supermarket I need to watch him. He throws everything he likes in his trolley, but most of it is not good for him, cookies, icecream…. I we cook here, it’s usually chicken rice or we eat pasta. No fastfood.”
The mum of the family lives in Amsterdam still. Their younger brother, a football talent as well, Paul is still in Holland, playing for Ajax (C1). Alfons: “Paul is a good player, more a traditional defender. Strong, tall, good header. Paul is a bit like Rio Ferdinand, whereas Timothy can play anywhere. Holding midfielder, full back, centre back… Me? I think I’m a striker Benzema style. Our styles are similar. A bit. I mean, I’m not that good but I am not focused on scoring alone, I wish to support the team and create. I’m a team player, skilled and very quick.”
He’s playing in the National League, and makes gets he calls a Jupiler League level pay-check (between 50 and 100k euro per annum). Alfons: “I was unlucky. Everything that can go wrong, went wrong. I played for Zeeburgia (top amateur class) and I apparently was offered several test options from big clubs. They never told me. Finally, Almere City approached me directly. A step up, so I went. And then it started: knee was crook. Everything crashed. But FC Oss came along and after recovering there were issues with my transfer. Finally, I played a number of games for them and the Oss technical staff was amazing for me. The coach wanted to keep me, said he was very positive but he needed to work on my consistency. But I didn’t sign an extension. I wanted to go with Timothy and try my luck here. I got a chance with Southport and in my first game vs Oldham Athletic I got injured. The coach said: I do like you but can’t use you now. We gotta move on, so he signed another player.”
The “Old Trafford” of Alfons….
He did all sorts of tests for clubs he can’t even remember anymore. “Then there was a chance with Colwyn Bay. And another kid I knew got a test too, so I drove with him. Guess what? It was in Wales! We drove for hours, over hills, through valleys…endless. And when I got there, I got a 5 minutes sub run. And after the match the coach said: I haven’t seen enough of you. Yes of course not! 5 minutes and then we drove back. I was glad they didn’t want me. I couldn’t be driving there all the time…”
In the meantime Rodney Kongolo and Tim Fosu-Mensah discuss Tim’s big chance to score a Man United goal. “If Zlatan would have passed the ball late in the game, I was in on goal. Goalie was out of position. I had run a mile, but I was still fresh you know. And he saw me! But he decided to score himself. He said: I haven’t been plodding in the cold here for 85 minutes for nothing you know, hahahaha.”
Alfons smiles. He knows the anecdote well. His United anecdote makes him grimace. So North Ferriby. I never saw that before. It’s a tiny town, with a tiny football club. And all those old, fat creepy guys eating their pies and yelling “Fucking hell!” all the time, hahaha. We are fighting relegation. They were supposed to play football, the coach said, but now it’s all long hail marys forward. He told me: don’t ask the ball in your feet, run run run! And that just isn’t my game…”
But Alfons is a fighter. “I do everything I can, I enlisted a personal trainer and he trains with me three times a week. I need to become stronger. We got some new players in and they are quite good. So we might make it. And then I hope to be able to make a step up. When the chance comes, I need to be ready.” Timothy: “I have the utmost respect for Alfons, he is a hard worker and a good player. If all goes well he can easily play in the Championship. He had bad luck but keeps on getting up. My trajectory was quite simple. Ajax signed me from Zeeburgia at young age and the guidance I got from Ajax and then Louis van Gaal signing me for Man United at this young age. I am so fortunate. Trust me, I have to work super hard as well, but it’s different. He is working hard and hoping and I do not know, if I would be that strong.”
Alfons: “You would have said “Fok it!” hahaha. I just need the right club, and a coach who gets it. I actually need my Louis van Gaal but…I don’t think I’ll find him at the level where I am at, hahaha.”
Timothy: “It’s not always easy for him, sometimes he does get down and then I pick him up. I believe in him and I tell him: it will work out… You need a buddy like this. He is there for me, whenever he is here, life is pleasant, it’s positive. Memphis took a good friend with him to Manchester for the same reason. Someone who’s real to you. Who you can trust. Our whole family is like that. We’re strong together.”
There was always love in the Fosu-Mensah family, but not a lot of money. “My dad worked two jobs to pay for everything. He worked at the flower-auction and had a night job as taxi driver. My mother took care of us. They couldn’t see us play all the time, simply no money to travel to the games. They sometimes took the train illegally, without a ticket, just to come to a match. All my team mates wore the newest clothes while I had hand-me-downs from Alfons. I owe it all to my family and now as a Manchester United player I can repay them. My family and The Lord. They made it happen.”
Alfons laughs and pokes his brother, who by now is lying flat on the sofa: “Hey we have visitors. Sit up!”. Timothy: “Just tired man, had a massive session at the club today.” Alfons starts to organise the house. “He always was trouble. We would keep the house clean and sit up when visitors came in, but he would be exactly how he is now. But I’m proud of him. He is doing well and hanging with some of the best players on the planet. And I get to know his team mates now too. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford come on down for a chat and Jesse Lingard came by last week to hang. That’s cool, they’re all cool guys…”
Are you ever jealous, if you see what Timothy has and where you are? “No not jealous, but I do have…you know I wanna play football. Focus on football. And where I’m at is different. There’s always something. But that is something all of us on this level have to deal with. And yes, sometimes people can’t stop talking about Tim. Even my team mates are constantly fishing for tickets or jerseys….”
What are the plans for the coming years? Timothy knows it by heart. “I want to be important for Man United. Focus on a starting spot, reach Champions League football, develop myself, stay on the radar for Oranje…” Van Gaal gave him his chance, but he feels the support of Mourinho too. “Well yes, I’m part of the squad more and more and I did renew my deal with Man United and obviously Mourinho will have agreed to that. But I don’t see myself as a talent anymore. I’ve arrived. Whenever there is a spot in midfield or in defence, I’m ready.”
Alfons’ answer is clear as well: “Play football in the Football League. That is my aim for this year. But I don’t wanna go lower. I’m almost 25 now so it’s time. And if that doesn’t work, well… I have finished my marketing degree. I will assist Tim for when he launches his fashion label.”
Timothy: “Done deal brother. But I’m starving now. Let’s get some food. Pasta time!”