Born in the footballing heart of Oldham, the Zelem family breathes soccer, with her father, Alan, a former Macclesfield goalkeeper, and her twin uncle, Peter, having graced the fields for Wolves, Preston, and Burnley.
Katie’s journey through the beautiful game started early, signing up for her first boys’ team at the tender age of 6, and it’s been a whirlwind since.
She began with United’s youth squad and then, after a stint with Liverpool’s women’s team, made a significant leap to Juventus in 2017, ultimately returning to Manchester in 2018 as the captain of the Manchester United Women’s team.
We met with Katie at the promotion of fellow Mancunian MMA athlete, Jack Cartwright, who takes on the biggest fight of his career at the AO arena on November 4th.
You can get tickets to that here.
In our exclusive interview, we delve deep into her footballing roots, her daily life as a captain, the invaluable advice that has shaped her career, and the surprising fact about her shoe size.
But it’s not just football that gets Katie’s heart racing; she’s also explored her passion for tennis and has a business degree up her sleeve, hinting at a potential future venture behind the scenes of the football world.
Can you quickly tell us about yourself, your background and how you got into football?
I’m a professional footballer, and captain of Manchester United.
I signed for my first boys’ team at 6 and then played for United when I was younger and full circle- back here.
Now here, captain of the club and my dad used to play, his identical twin used to play so it was a bit of a no brainer that I was going into football really.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career so far?
Yeah, I think I mentioned it with my dad certainly.
He used to come to every game, home and away- as does my mum.
My dad used to take me on the field when I was younger and we used to practice for hours on end, he was in Paris yesterday.
Every game he’ll watch over and over, sit and analyse.
Still now at 27, he will try and help me and improve me.
What does a typical day look like as Man United captain?
The schedule differs between single days and double days.
On a double day, we will go in, have breakfast, have a meeting, then we will analyse the team we’re playing or be analysing the match we just played.
We will do pre-gym, train for an hour and a half to two hours on the pitch and then after training, if it’s a double day, we’ll do gym and as captain there’s usually some sort of additional meeting involved (laughs).
Whether that’s with the manager, with the girls, with executives or whatever it may be. Then home time at about 4.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, or can give?
Don’t let one person define your career, especially in football, it’s based a lot on managers decisions, what they think and what they think you bring to the team but often maybe you’re not in the right environment or playing under the right coach, so I think it’s important to believe in your abilities and always back yourself because there will be somewhere or some team that fit in and can be the main cog.
If things hadn’t worked out, what would you have seen yourself doing?
I love tennis, whether or not I’d have been good enough (probably not- laughs). I have a degree in business, I really like the behind-the-scenes side to football, hopefully in the future I’ll go into something like that.
How do you relax on your days off?
I love seeing my friends, seeing my family. I’m lucky that all my friends and family are in Manchester.
I like going to the spa (laughs) to relax, chill out.
I think football is really full on and sometimes not just physically but mentally tiring too, so its nice to just get away from seeing the world of football.
Tell us something people may be surprised to hear about you
I’ve got size 3 feet.
Every time I tell people they say ‘how do you stand up? How do you kick the ball?’ – said jokingly.
I don’t know! This is what I’ve got and I’m working with it.
If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would It be?
The weather, 100%.
I love Manchester to bits and whenever we sign a foreigner, I’m like ‘come on you’re gonna love it’ and they’re like ‘Katie, it always rains’.
What do you love most about Manchester?
I love how friendly everyone is, that is something I always notice when I go somewhere else.
I’m quite a chatty person and I like to say hi to people as I walk past, and other cities don’t like that actually!
But in Manchester you get a nice friendly hello back.
The people, the places, I think it’s an incredible city.
Having found out about MMA today, what have you learnt?
It’s hard. I think you can never appreciate something until you’ve done it yourself. I did like 20 punches and my arms are already tiring. I don’t know how Jack does that but all them rounds and minutes consecutively is admirable.