VANCOUVER, BC – A lot has been made about the closeness and spirit within the Vancouver Whitecaps FC locker room this season. And you don’t have to look any further than Kekuta Manneh and Andy O’Brien to see why.
Whether it’s at the ‘Caps training centre or away from the game altogether, Manneh and O’Brien have become almost inseparable, which may come as a surprise to some.
They aren’t the usual pair.
There’s the age difference – Manneh is 19 and O’Brien 35. Or the contrasting personalities – Manneh is as animated as they come while O’Brien is a little more reserved. But it works.
“We complement each other very well,” Manneh told whitecapsfc.com. “When you get to know Andy, he’s actually really outgoing and entertaining. He’s probably one of the funniest guys on the team.”
“And he doesn’t get upset very easily,” Manneh added. “If you’re going be good friends with me, you have to be that way. I bug him all the time. I mean, I call him or text him every single day and make fun of him and he takes it pretty well. He’s that kind of person.”
Manneh and O’Brien were close last year as well, but their friendship has grown this season – partly because O’Brien moved into the same complex as the Gambian youngster.
“I see a lot of him at work and a lot of him outside of work as well,” O’Brien told whitecapsfc.com. “That’s definitely helped. He can be a bit cheeky sometimes but that’s part of his personality and who he is. You couldn’t help but like him. He’s the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve.”
On the field, Manneh and O’Brien are also two very different players. Manneh is an electric attacking player who has nine goals in his young MLS career. O’Brien, on the other hand, is steady centre back who played over 300 matches in the English Premier League. But they have found some common ground through their experiences this season.
Both players have dealt with injuries – Manneh missed a month of preseason with a back injury while O’Brien sat out a pair of games with a hip injury. At times, they’ve been forced to watch from the sidelines even when healthy.
Manneh has started just three of Vancouver’s last 10 matches, while O’Brien was relegated to the substitute’s bench for the entire month of July before starting the last two matches.
“It’s part and parcel of the game,” said O’Brien, who’s started 15 of his 16 appearances this season. “The easiest thing to do is bellyache, give up, and work less. But if you’re not playing, why not look at it as an opportunity to learn and better yourself?”
That’s the message O’Brien has been preaching to Manneh and a lot of the younger players on the team, especially in recent weeks because it’s something he’s “had to preach to [himself].”
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And that’s only what we see.
Manneh said he and O’Brien often watch video and talk shop on their own time.
“People say I’ve been helping guys and stuff like that,” O’Brien said. “I suppose they make me want to help them, if that makes sense, because I can see they have a desire and interest in work.”
Take Manneh, for example. In the last three weeks, the young Gambian has been doing extra running after almost every training session, as he follows a fitness program designed by assistant coach Martyn Pert. He’s also in the gym with O’Brien every other day.
“He’s worked as hard as anybody in the last three weeks,” O’Brien said. “And I’m not giving you lip service. He said to me the other day, are we going in the gym? I don’t view that as something I’ve helped him with. I think it’s something that he’s got within him and he’s going to have to have within him, because I say to him jokingly you’ve got another 18 years of this potentially.”
“He helped me through a lot,” said Manneh, adding that he’s already seeing some positive changes from the extra fitness work. “Just knowing that there’s someone out there who’s really focusing on me and really wanting to help me, it’s great. I think he’s a great role model for young players on the team.”
To Manneh, though, he’s more than that. He’s like an older brother.
“You could definitely say that,” Manneh laughed. “He’s definitely one of my best friends on the team.”
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