Manchester United youngster Tosin Kehinde ready to prove himself in first team
MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United youngster Tosin Kehinde says he is ready to test himself in "men's football".
The 20-year-old has been offered a new contract to stay at Old Trafford after his current deal expired at the end of last month.
He is also attracting interest from at home and abroad, with European heavyweights Barcelona and Atletico Madrid among the clubs keeping a close eye on the highly rated midfielder. Kehinde, who has returned to Carrington for preseason training after recharging his batteries over the summer, insists his priority ahead of the new season is to get his first taste of senior football and, in his words, "see if I'm at that level".
It could mean leaving United on loan or making a fresh start somewhere else.
"The main thing for me at this moment in time, I feel like, especially at my age, I need to be around a first-team environment, " Kehinde told ESPN FC. "That's the thing for me.
"At my age, you need to be testing yourself and putting yourself in those kinds of situations to see where you're at, to see if you're at that level and that you're ready for it, or there are still things that need to be worked on.
"As much as the Under-23s is good, you can't spend too long in there because when it is time to move on, it's difficult because you have got no real experience in men's football."
Kehinde, born in Nigeria but raised in the UK, was just 16 when he made his debut for the reserves and was a regular for Ricky Sbragia's U23s last season.
He has already caught the attention of Jose Mourinho and has been called up to train with the first team.
"It's a great thing training with them," he added. "There are so many things you can learn from them, even in a short space of time. You can tell by the speed of the training sessions how high the level is and how high the standard has to be to make any type of impression.
"When I've trained with them, Michael Carrick has always been very encouraging. He has helped me out and given me ideas. He has given me advice on how I should be looking at the game, so it's great."
Kehinde has watched academy teammates Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah make an impact at senior level while fellow midfielder Scott McTominay broke into the first-team squad last season.
There were initial concerns about what Mourinho's appointment as manager two years ago would mean for the club's young players. But Kehinde insists the Portuguese coach has proved his doubters wrong.
"When the manager came in, people were a bit unsure about what was going to happen, but you see what he's done with Scott and with Marcus," he said.
"It may come across in the media that Marcus isn't playing as much, but when you actually look at it, he is one of the most used players. If you're good enough, the manager is willing to give young players a chance."
Kehinde has pledged his international future to Nigeria after talks with the Nigerian Football Federation in March. The African side came within a late Marcos Rojo volley of progressing from a World Cup group that also contained Croatia and Argentina, despite having the tournament's youngest squad with an average age of just 25.9.
It bodes well for Kehinde, who will be 24 when the next World Cup starts in Qatar in 2022.
"Considering the average age of the team, they did well," said Kehinde. "It was always going to be a tough group and they only just went out. They can be very proud of themselves and the future is bright.
"It's the type of competition you want to be involved in. It definitely gives you a lot of encouragement that they are willing to give chances to young players."
Kehinde is one of four United youngsters currently out of contract at Old Trafford, along with Ethan Hamilton, Callum Whelan and Zak Dearnley. A decision on his future is set to be made in the coming weeks.
"I want to be at the top," he said.
"As a kid, when you first decide you want to play football, that's what the aim is. As a sportsman, you always want to be the best you can be and that's the level I'm trying to get to. It's a long process but you have got to believe in your ability and hope that you get a bit of luck along the way.
"United opens up a world of opportunities. Even if you don't make it at the club, you have started right at the top.
"Ideally, I'd like to make it at United because being at the club for six or seven years now, it's hard to see yourself anywhere else, so I really hope that's where I get to make my career."
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.