We spoke to Axel Tuanzebe this week as he settles into life after returning to B6 on loan.
Check out his answers to a host of questions below.
Q] You’re a bit of a linguist?
Yes. I speak three languages in total. That’s English, French and Lingala.
Lingala is a language spoken in DR Congo, where I was born. That’s my first language.
DR Congo is also a French-speaking country, too, so I picked up that by osmosis from my parents. I was too young to study it at the time.
Obviously I learnt English when I moved here – and I have to say, I think it’s the easiest of the three. I learnt it quite quickly.
In the future, I’d love to pick up a few more – I find once you know more than one language, it’s easier to learn even more.
Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are quite similar. So I’d like to pick up one of them which would make it easier to then learn the other two.
It’s very helpful for a footballer to know a variety of languages. I find it helps in day-to-day life as a player. Football is such a global game nowadays. I like being able to communicate with players who come in from abroad.
Q] Paul McGrath was a legend for Aston Villa and Man Utd – how much admiration do you have for him?
When you talk about Aston Villa and Man Utd together, you do think of Paul McGrath.
I know he won the FA Cup with Man Utd and then two League Cups here with Aston Villa – as well as the PFA Player of the Year.
But being in and around the city here and hearing Aston Villa fans chatting in regular day-to-day, it’s amazing how much his name comes up whenever you talk about legends of the club, heroes of the club.
He’s clearly loved here and I know he’s incredibly well thought of at Old Trafford for what he did there.
Q] Fans have got a Tuanzebe chant – how pleased to know the fans care about you like that?
I absolutely love it. Obviously, essentially, I’m on loan here at Aston Villa so to think I have a chant, it’s amazing.
It just shows what good people there are here.
I respect that the fans are showing me respect – it means a lot.
The chant itself? I love it. It sounds great. I couldn’t be more pleased, to be honest.
Q] You spent a season here – what impressed you most about Aston Villa the first time around?
I have got to say the people at the football club – the staff.
These people genuinely care. They want to help.
Football can sometimes be a solitary road – you building yourself. But to have so many people here trying to help you grow and see you develop, it’s lovely.
It was an easy decision to come back here once I felt that connection at the club. I want to continue that journey in a familiar place with familiar people.
You go into work and there’s always a ‘morning’, ‘how you doing’ – always a greeting. It’s great.
Q] How good can Jack Grealish be?
Jack has huge potential, no question.
He’s still young and can obviously develop in various areas of his game – but he’s supremely talented.
He will only get better. He has great focus. He is determined to get better.
In training, I enjoy coming up against Jack because he has so many tricks in his locker. You don’t know what he’s going to do so he keeps you on your mettle every single day.
That’s such good preparation for matchday. It helps you develop as a defender.
Q] Which Aston Villa 'Young Lion' have you been most impressed with?
I’m going to go with Jake Doyle-Hayes.
He’s a quiet lad but he does his talking on the field. He comes to life on the football pitch.
He is a model young professional – he does his job, works hard, he’s always looking to learn.
He works for other people, which I really like, he has the best interests of the team at heart, which is a good trait.
Q] Talk to us about your impressions of James Chester?
Chezzie is solid, full-stop.
First off, he has a fantastic character – he’s tremendous in the dressing room – incredibly lively.
He’s a great skipper too – he’s good organisationally with the lads and he’s also a good person. He cares about the lads and wants to make sure everyone is alright.
On the pitch, you can see those traits, too. He’s vocal, giving advice during the game, always talking to me. I like playing with him. He’s a top lad.
Q] Your hero was Paolo Maldini – why?
At that time in my life watching football, there was no question whatsoever that the Italians were the very best defenders. It was a fact. That’s not to be argued with.
Maldini was a class act, simple as that. He was just so dominant. He was fast, strong but he could also play football. That’s the kind of defender I want to be. I’d love to be a Paolo Maldini one day.
He seemed so humble too, which I really like. They are traits I live by – not being cocky, outspoken or loud.
He was focused on his craft and worked day-to-day on being the very best player he could be.
I thought he was a fine player – but a role model to look up to also.
As well as that, look at his longevity. He kept going year after year and his standards never dropped. He was always on his game. To keep going for that long, you would have had to live the good lifestyle and look after your body well. That’s to be respected.
Q] What’s Jon Kodjia really like – looks a real character?
Jimmy Danger! He’s one of my best pals in the dressing room. I am always with him.
He makes my day every single day. He’s such a livewire and that rubs off on me. I see him, he puts me in a great mood and then it’s time to go out and smash training together.
He’s a brilliant character. He’s been away with the Ivory Coast during this international break and I’ve missed him. But when he’s back we’ll be back on it together, gearing up for the next game.
I can’t underestimate how much positive energy he brings. 100%.
Q] Best initiation song you’ve heard – and what did you belt out?
The best one I’ve ever heard was ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. That was back at Man Utd. It was a lad called Callum Gribbin. It was totally unexpected, which made it even funnier.
My song here at Villa was Drake ‘Shot For Me’. It was a nice little smooth number. But I don’t think the lads liked it.
I’m not too fussed though because I’m here to play football, not to sing.
Q] You love films – how come?
I love spending time by myself. I enjoy my own company – chilling out.
When you’re tired after football, it’s just good to find something to do to relax away from the game.
I love watching films now – I’ve got through so many movies.
I just find it a good way of staying away from distractions – being in the zone and resting up.
Obviously if you’re at home, you’re also eating right. In that way, it’s a good way of filtering in good habits.
My favourite genre is sci-fi. I’m a big fan of Marvel. I loved the Avengers: Infinity War film.
Q] Do you believe in God – and how important is religion in your life?
I am a big believer. My whole family is Roman Catholic.
Here in Birmingham, I have found myself a church to go to, which is important to me.
I go by myself on Sundays. It’s important, in my mind, to be spiritually cleansed. There are a lot of things in this world that can bring you down.
But you just want a good pathway to get to where you want to go and I believe in the importance of having God in my life to help me get there.
Q] You have a Guinness World Record for clearing Hungry Hippos in 17.36 seconds – discuss?
It was during the Man Utd USA pre-season tour in California in 2018.
I was with Ro-Shaun Williams.
I just had a go. It was a bit of fun. Nothing more than that, really.