NATHAN WOOD this time last year was making lattes and cappuccinos in a Newport coffee shop.
But today he is dreaming of putting the mochas on Manchester United.
The County midfielder, 26, thought his chances of being a pro footballer were over and worked at a local Caffé Nero to make ends meet.
But Newport signed the lifelong Manchester United fan in the summer – and incredibly he now has a chance of facing his heroes at Rodney Parade.
He told SunSport: “Had you come into the coffee shop and told me I’d have a chance to play Manchester United in the FA Cup here in Newport I’d have thought you were mad!
“While sorting out someone’s Espresso or Americano, you’re not thinking in a year’s time you’d be up against five-time Champions League winner Casemiro or Lisandro Martinez, who has just won a World Cup with Lionel Messi!
“I was working there while playing part-time in the Welsh Premier League for Penybont to pay the bills.
“It was 7am until 2pm four days a week. I had to learn everything about coffee – the right levels of foam, the beans, not burning anything and steaming the milk.
“I still pop in on the way to training to grab a flat white because it’s a little stronger, not so much milk, and gives you energy for running around a pitch.”
Wood is proudly Newport born-and-bred and used to watch the team as a kid while they were still playing non-league – and fondly remembers watching the club’s first game back in the EFL against Accrington Stanley 11 years ago with his dad and grandad.
But the midfielder’s own story is even more extraordinary as he thought his dreams of making it as a pro were shattered when County released him as a 17-year-old after coming through the club’s academy.
He said: “I was gutted because I thought it was my last chance to be a pro. I ended up going to Undy, who were bottom of the whole Welsh pyramid system.
“And although I didn’t get the elite coaching enjoyed at a pro club, I learned about being kicked and pushed around in men’s football.”
Wood went on to study sports coaching at Cardiff University as well as becoming a support worker for vulnerable school kids.
But he also spent four years with Penybont where he won promotion to the Welsh Premier League – and after scoring 15 goals last season he once again attracted the attention of Newport, who signed him in the summer.
He said: “Had it not been for Penybont and the manager Rhys Griffiths and his assistant Martyn Giles I’d not have developed the way I did.”
His favourite player is Marcus Rashford and he even bought his named shirt in the club shop when watching United take on Manchester City in the FA Cup four years ago.
He said: “I love everything he stands for. He’s the same age as me and he gets a lot of harsh criticism sometimes.
“I admire how he conducts himself off the pitch.
“From my own experiences working with kids, I understand there’s more to football than just football. I see how influential he is to young people and how he uses his platform for a greater good.
“Whether it’s being a footballer or working in a coffee shop, it’s important to keep being yourself and show people there’s more in this sometimes dark and selfish world.
“Some critics have been saying he must focus on just football – but I don’t agree.
“He knows how hard his upbringing was in Manchester – how he went home and didn’t eat. So he’s using his background and story to help the next generation coming through. That’s something I’m passionate about too.
“And his ability on the pitch is unbelievable. I don’t think he’s reached his pinnacle yet – he can be as good as he wants to be.
“So as both a person, and player, he’s top. I definitely would love to grab his shirt and meet him after the game on Sunday.”
Newport fans have not yet invented a song about the midfielder working in a coffee shop – although they made a flag for the Wrexham game last weekend, which read: ‘Who needs Hollywood when we’ve got Nathan Wood.’.
And although Wood has been a pro for only eight months, he is certainly making up for lost time – having already faced Premier League Brentford in the Carabao Cup and now Manchester United.
If the midfielder ends up not getting beyond the two-year contract he signed in the summer, he will forever be grateful for weekends like this one.
He said: “To be a doctor you have to study for something like seven or eight years – but it’s taken me NINETEEN to be a pro footballer.
“If this contract is all it ends up being, I’ve crammed in playing against two Premier League clubs – one of them the biggest in the world. But hopefully I can kick on because I’m living the dream.”
Or should that be the Americano dream?