Wigan Athletic starlet Thelo Aasgaard is making a name for himself with the Sky Bet League One promotion contenders.
Still a teenager until May, the attack-minded midfielder has surpassed a half-century of first-team appearances and is increasingly becoming a fan favourite, particularly after producing two incredible stoppage-time strikes to beat Shrewsbury Town and Blackburn Rovers in recent months.
However, there is more to his identity than just being a footballer. Coming from a musical background, the multi-talented youngster spends most of his spare time using his home studio to produce a range of tracks, working with many unsigned artists from the UK and USA under the pseudonym ‘Thxlo’.
“I’m passionate about music and I really enjoy being creative,” he admits. “I like to do it as more of a chilled-out hobby that I can sit down and enjoy doing after a stressful day at training or after a game.
“It’s definitely something I’m keen to continue experimenting with and it’s also a potential pathway to go down once my football career has finished.”
While some may consider it to be a distraction from his playing commitments, Aasgaard is adamant that his passion for music is benefiting his mental wellbeing and, therefore, improving his performance on the pitch.
“I definitely believe it’s important to have other interests,” he says. “When you go home and you’ve got nothing to do, I think it’s important to not just be a footballer and have another side to you.
“I also feel it’s instrumental for when it comes to life after football, whenever that may be, because no matter how successful your career is, everyone needs to find another pathway at some point as nobody can play forever. Developing interests is massively important in preparing you for that.
“It does depend on the individual. Some lads go home and watch more football, spend all night on analysis and study every game, whereas others prefer to do something completely different, just to relax.
“For me, that time doing something else allows me to refocus better when I go back in for training the next day, so it’s all down to the individual and finding the right balance.”
Despite being quite a unique pastime for an emerging footballer to pursue, it comes as no surprise for Aasgaard, given that both of his parents are professional musicians.
His dad, Jonathan, travels the world as a renowned cellist in an orchestra, while mum Georgina performs music therapy in a variety of social and health settings, including Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
Former Liverpool schoolboy Aasgaard adds: “There was never any pressure on me to become a musician, but with it being in the family, I took it on and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been through loads of instruments from a young age and it’s great to have that kind of culture in the family. It runs all the way to my grandad and great grandad, so it’s fun to be able to carry it on.
“I look up to my dad a lot. You could say that our jobs are related because they’re both judged by performance. My dad, as a musician, is a performer. Similarly, as a footballer, I am also a performer. When I go and watch him, I know that the pressure is on because he’s got a large audience watching him, so I definitely look up to my dad in that way.
“Likewise, my mum’s a very inspirational figure. When she comes back from work, she’s always got stories to tell and it’s great to see the impact she makes on people’s lives. I try to take her example and go to any Club community events and always try to put myself forward to meet the fans and do stuff like that.”
While music is in his blood, the footballing world is very much at his feet.
Penning a new four-and-a-half-year contract in December was a sure sign that the Latics have high hopes for their Norway U20 prodigy, although it wasn’t always a certainty that Aasgaard would make the grade at the DW Stadium.
A string of injuries hampered him for two years between the ages of 16 and 18, which meant he was only handed a third-year scholarship, rather than a professional deal, at the end of the 2019/20 season.
“Being in digs and suffering with injuries was a tough time and I couldn’t really find my feet as a scholar,” he recalls. “But that’s what the journey is all about – overcoming those difficult moments and pushing through.
“I’m a lot mentally tougher now, so I’m happy to have gone through those hardships along the way and now I’m a lot better prepared for the ups and downs of life as a professional footballer.
“I went into last season having trained relentlessly during pre-season. Not having a pro contract wasn’t the way I’d envisaged it, but I was still given a chance to stay at the Club and I just wanted to make the absolute most of it.
“When that opportunity came to train with the first team and get a few pre-season matches, I was determined not to waste it, and I think I adapted pretty well.”
Manager Leam Richardson certainly agreed with that assertion, offering the promising talent the chance to turn professional at the start of 2021 after establishing himself in the first-team setup.
And Aasgaard is just one example of a growing conveyor belt of Academy products rising through the ranks. The Tics have been a dominant force at U18 level in recent times, winning multiple Leagues and Cups, with several homegrown prospects either progressing at the Club or moving onto pastures new.
“The Academy staff do a great job, whether it’s the coaches, recruitment staff or sport scientists,” says Aasgaard. “They’ve created a strong culture of developing young players and have moulded me into the player I am today.
“Now, the younger age groups have people to look up to and aspire to be. I’d like to think I’m in that category along with the other lads that are still here, but there’s also Alfie Devine (Tottenham Hotspur), Jensen Weir (Brighton & Hove Albion), Joe Gelhardt and Sean McGurk (both Leeds United) who have moved onto Premier League Clubs, so it shows the pathway is there.
“I’ve known a lot of these lads since we were 14 or 15 and we’ve done the journey together. We’re all at our own stages in our careers and we’ve all got a lot more to come, so it’s up to us to continue that now.”
It’s not just on the pitch where Aasgaard believes he has benefited from growing up in the football environment, highlighting his personal and academic development, too.
“I don’t think there’s any better place to improve socially than in a football changing room,” he continues. “There are people from so many different backgrounds and cultures and being around that has made a huge impact on me.
“Mentally as well, I like to take inspiration from people and identify what I can learn and use to make me better, so it’s been really helpful to be around experienced people that have been there and done it.
“Our Head of Education, Mike Hurn, made us fully aware that the education side was important. Not everyone in an Academy team is going to have a professional career, so it was always emphasised to us that it’s a priority. I did the Extended Diploma and I did quite well.
“Mike used to say that if you’re not doing your best in your education, then you’re making it harder for yourself to give your best on the football pitch, because you’re not making that principle of working hard second nature in all aspects of your life. When you’re working well on your education, it builds your confidence and you definitely take that out onto the field.
“I’ve also kept in contact with the lads that didn’t make it here and they’re all going down their own pathways. It just shows that if you focus on your education alongside your football, it gives a good foundation to move forward into a new chapter in your life, whatever route you want to take.”
Just 18 months ago, Aasgaard’s future in football was hanging in the balance. Now, the 19-year-old has his sights firmly set on success, as Wigan challenge for silverware on multiple fronts.
“There’s a great spirit in the squad at the moment and we’re trying to take that into every game,” he declares. “Our main target is obviously to finish as high up the league as we can and secure promotion, and we also have a great chance to win the Papa John’s Trophy.
“Every kid dreams of playing at Wembley, so being one game away from having that opportunity, we’re not planning on throwing that away.
“I think I can be proud of what I’ve achieved so far in a short space of time, but I’m not one to dwell on highs or lows. I try to move on quickly to the next objective and keep trying to push forward.
“Ultimately, I just want to fulfil my potential and do as well as I can in a Wigan shirt and see where that takes me.”