Seated towards the back, next to Morgan Gibbs-White, McAtee was busy gathering together his belongings ahead of a match against Slovenia when the former Sheffield United loanee turned around and revealed who he’d just been speaking to on the telephone.
“He told me ‘The gaffer’s just rung my mobile and been asking me about you’,” McAtee said, recollecting his conversation with the Wolverhampton Wanderers star. “So I just replied ‘Oh, okay.’ I didn’t really know then why he’d be doing that. But it quickly became pretty obvious.”
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Seven weeks later, following some intense negotiations complicated by Pep Guardiola’s desire to ensure he receives the best education, McAtee is now a United player after his season long switch to Bramall Lane was completed ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Millwall. The manager who called Gibbs-White was of course Paul Heckingbottom. His decision to quiz Gibbs-White on the 19-year-old’s character had the desired effect, given the success McAtee’s international colleague enjoyed at United term. After returning to Molineux, having scored 12 goals in 37 appearances during his spell in South Yorkshire, Gibbs-White is now seemingly being courted by half of the Premier League and a huge swathe of Europe too.
“Morgan loved it here,” McAtee continued. “Well, it was obvious because that’s how he put it. Not just the football and games but also in the dressing room. He told me he didn’t have a bad word to say about the place. That he couldn’t think of one if he tried. That was really good to hear and look at what it’s done for him.”
It is a measure of Guardiola’s faith in McAtee’s talents that the Catalan, having just delivered his fourth title to the Etihad Stadium, has no intention of parting company with the 19-year-old on a permanent basis. Instead, as McAtee himself explained, he views the move to United as an opportunity to enjoy regular first senior football and experience the demands of trying to command a place in a Championship starting eleven. Fit and available for selection, that process began when he reported for training on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s home game - United’s first of the new campaign.
“The manager (Guardiola) said he was supportive, to try and play next year,” McAtee said. “I want to add goals and assists and be creative. I try to create chances out of nothing. My main goal is to get in the play-offs and get promoted here. I want to be strong enough and big enough to compete.”
McAtee’s City colleague, Tommy Doyle, is also set to spend the season with United after also being placed with Heckingbottom’s men. Doyle was another port of contact for McAtee once United’s interest became known.
“The manager was very nice here, and how he saw the 10’s moving around on the pocket, that was how I wanted to play too,” said McAtee, whose preferred position is just behind the front two. “And Morgan, I spoke to him as you know. Tommy as well.
“It’s my first loan. I’m going to adapt quickly and get used to it.”