Imagine being offered a Manchester United contract but turning it down in order to study at university.
Depending on your point of view, that would either be an incredibly brave or incredibly foolish decision.
If you’re being offered a contract at United, a) you must be very good at football and b) you must have worked extremely hard to even reach that point, practicing for thousands of hours throughout childhood and impressing various coaches along the way.
Many aspiring footballers would give their right arm to sign for one of the world’s biggest clubs, playing in front of 76,000 fans at Old Trafford while earning vast sums of money in the process.
But something inside Oliver Gill convinced him that attending university would be more beneficial than accepting a contract from the Red Devils.
Gill – son of United’s former chief executive, David, who worked alongside Sir Alex Ferguson so successfully between 2003-2013 – never made a first-team appearance for the Premier League giants but was named on the bench on four occasions.
When Man Utd beat Wolfsburg 3-1 away in the Champions League thanks to a Michael Owen hat-trick in December 2009, for example, the defender was named among the substitutes by Ferguson.
Gill also spent one month on loan at Bradford City, where he impressed manager Peter Taylor, during the 2010-11 campaign – the same season he was named winner of United’s Reserve Player of the Year award.
The Denzil Haroun Reserve-Team Player of the Year accolade has been won by the likes of Nicky Butt, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, Giuseppe Rossi and Adnan Januzaj over the years.
But despite winning the award, 20-year-old Gill decided to walk away from football weeks later in the summer of 2011.
Instead, he enrolled at Durham University to study economics and joined his fellow students in late September that year.
His promising football career was over before he’d even turned 21 and it was entirely his decision.
Why did Oliver Gill reject Manchester United contract?
“I was thinking about staying,” Gill admitted in an interview with The Independent six years later in 2017. “The first year I did full-time I almost treated it as a gap year and would see how it goes. I had a few experiences of being on the bench, we won the reserve league, I enjoyed it. With the full-time training and coaches I had you just improve so much, so thought I should see how it goes and if I could make a similar level of improvement. I was still young, I wasn’t delaying the inevitable, as if I’d made an appearance for the first-team and maybe kicked on from there, you never know.
“It was a fantastic experience and that’s one of the things I’d look back on with the most fond memories, as I was training against [Ryan] Giggs and [Paul] Scholes who were players I’d grown up watching, so it was a privilege. I learned a lot both on and off the pitch in my time at the club.
“I think if my career was going to be that, I would have stuck at it a bit longer. It was a good experiences and something I will never experience again. Even just being in the dressing room is very interesting, listening to the pre-match team talk, they would do an analysis on the opposition on all these players you’d watched on Match of the Day, which gave me an insight into the professional game, as they showed you a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
“It was a very eye-opening experience. Being in at half-time, with Ferguson’s reputation of ranting and raving, but I never really saw that side, even when they were down he’d be more analytical and calm. It was a fantastic experience and if I thought I was going to be playing for Manchester United I don’t think I would have made the decision I did.”
Indeed, whether it was a lack of belief or realism about his footballing ability, Gill feared that he would end up going down to the leagues – a scenario that didn’t appeal to him.
What did Oliver Gill do after graduating from university?
And after graduating from university, Gill went on to work in assurance, a job which can involve 12-hour stints in the office.
“It was a really tough decision,” Gill admitted. “I’ve been asked a lot of time why I did it and no one has ever said ‘that’s a good decision’ but I would stick by it. I occasionally regret it when I am working long hours now, but I haven’t regretted it too much.
“I wouldn’t say there was one moment when I didn’t make a squad and thought I needed to get out of there or anything like that. It was more going on loan and realising I wasn’t going to get to get to the level I wanted to; I wasn’t going to be a Premier League player – I could see where my limitations were. I realised I wasn’t going to be a Manchester United player, and I could see my friends having fun and I had to decide what life I wanted for myself.
“I wanted to give university a chance and thought I’d enjoy myself there, not that I didn’t enjoy my second year full-time at United, but I could see I wasn’t going to be playing for Manchester United or playing in a Premier League team, I would be off playing somewhere I didn’t want to play in the lower leagues and that didn’t attract me as much.
“I thought I would see how university went and I haven’t regretted it, apart from when I working long days or see someone I played with get a big contract and I think ‘bloody hell’. If I could make the decision again, I wouldn’t change it, it was the right one for me, even if it’s not for everyone.”
Will Oliver Gill return to Manchester United one day?
He continued to play five-a-side and 11-a-side football in London – and presumably was the best player on the pitch – and also had an eye on following in his father’s footsteps.
“If could pick my ideal job it would be the one my dad did because I’m a Man United fan, it’s probably the most interesting job you can do in business,” Gill added during the 2017 interview. “It would be signing players, going to watch all the game and having an influence on the team, in a sense.”
Five years later and Gill hasn’t made his way back to Old Trafford just yet, although many fans would welcome him with open arms if he was half as competent as his dad, whose presence at the club has been badly missed over the past nine years.
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