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Jack Barmby exclusive: From Man Utd to Leicester to thriving in USL

Four years have passed since Jack Barmby left family and friends in England to continue his footballing journey in America.

Now with United Soccer League club Phoenix Rising, Barmby has a simple message for young footballers in his homeland who are struggling to take the next step.

"There still might be a stigma in English football that if you go to America, you might not make it back, because they think the American game is not as good. But honestly I would say to any youth team or reserve team player, if you know you're not going to make the first-team, I would 100 per cent do it," Barmby tells

"The experience of coming out here and travelling around the country, playing football, it's definitely something different and it's a great lifestyle. I would definitely say to any kid around there looking to deeply consider it."

Son of former England midfielder Nick Barmby, Jack started his career with Hull City before making the switch to Manchester United as a 14-year-old in 2008.

There arguably wasn't a better club in world football to join at the time. With Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, United had just won the Premier League and Champions League, and the first-team squad was packed with world-class talent. It was an experience which the 25-year-old says 'massively' helped his career.

"Obviously at that time Sir Alex Ferguson and all the last generation that was winning Champions Leagues and Premier Leagues, with (Ryan) Giggs, (Wayne) Rooney, (Paul) Scholes and (Rio) Ferdinand.

"It was crazy, it's sort of what the kids at Liverpool are experiencing now. It's always going to be tough to break into the first-team, but the experience of seeing that mentality.

"They were playing games every three days, whether that be Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup. It was relentless, but I don't take for granted the experiences from that."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was named United reserve team manager in the same summer Barmby arrived at the club.

The Norwegian has since taken over as first-team manager, with the club entrusting him to restore the values upheld by his mentor, Ferguson. And Barmby recalls fondly his time working with the former Red Devils star.

"He was always that type of character. He wants to help in any way. The young kids. I remember just doing finishing sessions with him, and he was still better than us.

"He's got that sort of character where you know you could go to him with anything and he'll try and help out, whether that's football terms of family related, you know he'll do everything in his power to either make you a better player or help you off the pitch."

Video Courtesy of The Emirates FA Cup

A successful loan spell at Hartlepool in 2013 gave Barmby his first taste of senior football, and with opportunities limited at Old Trafford, he decided to join Leicester in 2014.

Barmby says he formed a good relationship with then-Foxes boss Nigel Pearson, who regularly let him train with the first-team. But those occasions dried up once Claudio Ranieri took the reins in 2015. A year later and Leicester would be crowned Premier League champions.

"When he (Pearson) left, it was just the first-team only, which was fair enough I guess because they went on to win the league. It was a difficult time, then I knew I had to leave. But it was a great experience training with the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy and so on."

In March 2016, the American adventure began for Barmby when he was sent on loan to Major League Soccer side Portland Timbers.

He spent time between the Timbers and their USL affiliate, mustering 69 appearances for both sides. An offer to stay in the USL with San Antonio arose in 2019, before Barmby joined their Western Conference rivals Rising after the end of last season.

Comparing his experiences across both competitions, the former England youth international believes America's second-tier can stand tall.

"I don't think the USL gets enough credit as it deserves, there's some really good players in this league. Obviously you get the players in the MLS, the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, David Villa, Pirlo. But both leagues are really good.

"I'd say the USL is far more intense in terms of the pace of the game, bit more frantic. The MLS you get a little bit more time on the ball and you're playing with better players.

"It's more difficult in the ULS because more teams play on baseball fields which I think eventually they'll sort of wean out, but obviously at the minute teams have to get off the ground and get a fanbase going."

Barmby was one of the stars of the USL whilst playing for San Antonio last season. Possessing a thunderous left-boot, the midfielder scored eight goals and five assists across 32 league appearances.

It was a testament to Barmby's quality when Rising came calling at the end of last season. Rick Schantz's side lost just four from 34 regular season games in 2019, and Barmby admits he couldn't turn down an opportunity to play with the Arizona club.

"I was at Portland, which I really enjoyed. Then it got to the point where I needed to leave to get some games. So I went over to San Antonio, obviously the coach was English, he basically said I could get a full season of games in.

"The original reasoning was to try and maybe move back up to the MLS but it didn't really work out that way. I had a couple of interesting offers but when Phoenix came in, at the time at San Antonio we just missed out on the play-offs and Darren (Powell) ended up getting sacked and stuff. So it was one of them things, Phoenix had done so well.

"I knew Peter Ramage and Blair (Gavin) and so I just felt it was the right thing to do. If I couldn't back up to the MLS then I wanted to play for the best team in the league.

"I played against them a few times and knew what they were about. It was a pretty easy switch over to be honest. But I really did enjoy my time in San Antonio, it was a good time."

Despite being intent on creating his own name in football, Barmby says he still calls on his father Nick for advice.

The elder Barmby enjoyed an excellent career in the Premier League, appearing for six different clubs in the competition, including Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. And Barmby appreciates being able to call upon his father's expertise.

"It's always nice to have that someone who obviously has been in the same industry, been there, seen it and done it.

"It's nice to call him up and talk about things, and get his take on what I should be doing, what I shouldn't. I feel old enough to know now what's right from wrong, but it's always nice. And he's always interested too, he's always the first one on the phone after we play a game."

Family remains an important value for Barmby and he admits he could 'go back to England at some point', but right now he is focused on success with Phoenix.

Rising - who count Chelsea legend Didier Drogba as a part owner - have only just returned to training in small groups this week after being in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A preseason injury caused Barmby to miss Rising's one and only match for the season, a 6-1 win over his former club, Portland.

He can't wait to run out for his new team, and after last season's disappointment in the play-offs, Barmby says the club are determined to win the title this season.

"Obviously I'm concentrating on Phoenix Rising. I got injured in preseason so I didn't actually get to play the first game, so I haven't played a game for them yet, so I'm looking forward to that and seeing where it takes me.

"We had a few meetings at the start of the year with the coaches and the owners and they made their intentions really clear, the winning mentality and the way they want the season to go.

"I think you can see with the players they have signed, I think we've got a really good squad."

Follow Andrew Maclean on Twitter: @andrewmaclean30

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