In collaboration with Pangaia
Playing for Manchester City is no mean feat. Standing out amidst a sea of superstars is an even greater challenge.
Yet, to Manuel Akanji, it appears second nature.
When you play for the best club side in Europe, you share the stage with the world’s most talented and marketable footballers, who are all vying for one of 11 coveted places in the starting lineup.
To most, that might be daunting, but not for Manuel Akanji. In his first season in England, he made more appearances for City than any other defender, helping them secure the continental treble for the first time in their history.
However, his road to success has been far from straightforward — Manuel has had to work hard to get where he is today, and now he’s there, he’s enjoying every minute.
To celebrate Manuel’s meteoric rise, we spent the day at Manchester’s leading culinary hotspot, Tattu, to capture a world-exclusive collaboration with visionary fashion house Pangaia.
With its roots firmly embedded in Switzerland and the UK, Pangaia has quickly become one of the world’s leading fashion brands with a difference. Sustainable innovation is at the forefront of its ethos, promoting earth positivity and the significance of a brighter future for all.
It’s a philosophy echoed by Manchester City and its players, whose support for community and environmental projects has been well-documented since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008.
As part of SWM’s continued commitment to sustainability, we are proud to work with Pangaia, Manchester City, and Manuel, who all continue leading the way in advancing sustainability in elite sports and luxury lifestyles.
Manuel Obafemi Akanji was born in the small rural village of Wiesendangen, Switzerland. He was raised by his mother, Isabel, and father, Abimbola, alongside his two sisters, Michelle and Sarah, and from an early age, football was at the centre of his universe.
Manuel’s father — a financial expert from Nigeria — was an amateur footballer and played for their local team in Wiesendangen for much of Manuel’s childhood. It was here that Manuel and his sister, Sarah, first developed their love of the game.
“My love for football started with my father playing for the club where we grew up in Wiesendangen,” says Manuel. “I have two sisters, but the middle one, Sarah, is a few years older than me, and we used to watch the games my father was playing in. We wanted to do the same thing and play as he did, so we started playing in the garden and eventually for the same club.”
After a brief spell at FC Wiesendangen, Manuel joined the professional outfit FC Winterthur. By his 20th birthday, he had already been snapped up by Swiss Super League giants FC Basel, where he quickly began to build a formidable reputation.
Even with a torrid maiden season due to injuries, Manuel made eight top-flight appearances, announcing himself as one of Europe’s hottest prospects. But, despite his early success, it wasn’t always plain sailing. Manuel had to work hard to realise his dream, which, at one stage, looked as though it might have eluded him.
“It’s not easy to make it in professional football,” says Manuel. “There’s a lot of hard work and luck involved. It was always my dream to become a professional footballer, but at one point in my career, I didn’t think I’d make it because I was smaller than the other guys. Thankfully, that changed, and I felt it was possible again, but I had to do everything I could to make it.”
Manuel’s dedication and persistence paid off. After a string of consistent performances, he became the first name on the team sheet for FC Basel, helping them win two league titles and reach the last 16 of the Champions League. From that moment, he was heading in one direction: to the very top.
In January 2018, he signed for Borussia Dortmund, the Bundesliga powerhouse known for developing young talent. He would make 158 appearances in four seasons in Germany, winning two titles and admiration from some of the world’s biggest football clubs.
“When I found out Manchester City wanted to sign me, it was a great feeling,” he says. “It came towards the end of the transfer window, and I wasn’t sure what my future would look like then, so when the opportunity to join City came up, I immediately knew it was the right move for me.
“My time at the club has already helped me a lot. If you watch some of the games, you can see I have played so many different positions, which I wasn’t used to at first. Even now, I play some games in midfield, and the last time I played in midfield was in youth football when I was 16.
“But it’s made me a better player. Pep demands a lot from us and challenges us daily. We’ve got a great team that brings the best out of you in every session. In the end, there are only 11 players that can play, so you have to be at your best in every training session and game to play in the big moments.”
By the time Manuel had joined the Citizens, he had already established himself internationally with Switzerland. He has become integral to one of the best Swiss sides of all time, helping his country reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.
No matter who you are, representing your country is a remarkable feat. But in Manuel’s eyes, to do that in front of thousands on home soil adds an extra layer of memorability, making it one of his proudest career achievements.
“Honestly, playing for your country is one of the best feelings ever,” he says. “There could be no bigger achievement than winning a trophy for your country. It’s not been possible for us yet, but I’m hopeful we will do it one day. It’s not easy at this level because we’re playing against so many good teams but it makes me so proud every time I play for Switzerland.”
Manuel and his teammates must be at their best this summer to succeed in Euro 2024. Despite the abundance of talent that will be on display in this year’s tournament, Manuel remains optimistic that Switzerland can achieve something special.
“We are, of course, delighted to have qualified for the tournament in Germany,” he says. “With the host country, Hungary and Scotland, we didn’t get an easy group, but it goes without saying that we want to reach the last sixteen. Last time, we made it to the quarter-finals; let’s see what we can do this year.”
If last season was anything to go off, Manuel could be in for another memorable year for Man City and Switzerland. But it will take something rather special to replicate the achievements of 2022-23.
It was the greatest season in Man City’s history. They won their ninth Premier League title, seventh FA Cup final, and first and highly Coveted Champions League title in Istanbul, where they defeated Italian giant Inter Milan to secure an unprecedented treble.
Only eight European clubs have won the continental treble, a statistic that makes the achievement even more impressive. It was a testament to the squad’s talent and mental resilience, and if it appeared straightforward to those watching, Manuel reveals it was anything but.
“It was a lot of hard work, especially in the league, as we were second for a long time,” he says. “At the start of the year, Arsenal were ahead, but we had a big run from the end of February and kept winning games. In the Champions League, we dominated, especially at home, and in the FA Cup, we also had some excellent performances.
“Then, at one point, we knew everything was possible, especially in the league. We built up a good lead, and at that point, we knew we’d have two finals, and we needed to win them both to get the treble, and we did it.”
The Champions League is the holy grail of club football. Aspiring players from all four corners of the world grow up, dreaming of lifting the trophy one day, but that dream will never become a reality for most.
When you put it into context, it suddenly puts into perspective how daunting stepping onto the field for the final must be, no matter how experienced you are. Feeling nervous is an innate human quality; even at the highest level, Manuel admits there is no escaping those feelings.
“Playing in the Champions League final was an amazing experience, but it wasn’t easy,” says Manuel. “We had played so many games that season, and in the back of your mind, you know it’s the last game.
“Most other players are already on holiday or with their national team, and we’re still training, but playing in the Champions League final was what we’d all dreamed of. Ultimately, it wasn’t the best game we’d played, but we won, and that’s all that matters.”
And they deserved to be. After 65 competitive fixtures, City had achieved more than any club side in the world. The players and staff were entitled to let off a little steam and enjoy their successes in light of their triumphs — where better to do that than the White Isle of Ibiza?
“I will never forget the trip that we had after we won the Champions League. The season had been so long, and we hadn’t been able to celebrate the FA Cup or the League because we knew we still had the season’s biggest game to come.
“Once we’d won, it was just pure joy. Most players didn’t sleep after the final, so we went back to Manchester and took a trip to Ibiza with the team. All I’ll say is that we didn’t sleep much.
“After that, we came back to Manchester, and the parade kept us all going — we were so happy. It was raining so much but it didn’t matter because we were having such a good time with the fans. Everyone was there in the city to see us. It was a special feeling.”
For Manuel’s first magazine cover, it was important that the brand mirrored his on-and-off-the-field persona and resonated with his values and philosophy. Enter Pangaia, the forward-thinking materials science brand on a mission to save the planet.
Established by Miroslava Duma in 2018, Pangaia embarked on a singular mission: to ensure its luxury fashion contributes positively to the environment. Over the past five years, they have revolutionised the fashion industry, pioneering inventive solutions through distinctive luxury lifestyle products and experiences.
Few have encapsulated the spirit of this movement quite like Pangaia. Its effortless aesthetic has become a social media sensation, while its innovative approach to environmental issues positions it at the forefront of challenging industry norms.
Armed with a team of scientists, technologists, and designers, a commitment to innovation is at the heart of Pangaia’s philosophy. The brand’s signature lies in elevated loungewear, with oversized tracksuits and hoodies earning fervent admirers. Its latest line has transitioned into tailoring and denim — worn by Manuel for the shoot — as the brand continually reinvents itself.
High fashion and football have become inextricably linked in recent times. While fashion is widely considered harmful to the environment, pioneering brands like Pangaia and forward-thinking players like Manuel are redefining the industry.
In Manuel’s eyes, it is essential to support initiatives that benefit the wider community, both on and off the pitch. It’s an ethos shared by his teammates, who, as role models to millions, recognise that they are in a position of immeasurable influence.
“I know that on and off the pitch, I am a role model for Manchester City fans and football fans all over the world,” says Manuel. “I understand that as professional footballers, we have a platform to bring about positive change. Our actions on and off the pitch can make the world a better place. That is something I am aware of, and that is important to me.”
Manchester City is a club with sustainability at the core of its ethos. With its commitment to being carbon net zero by 2030, the club has been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that football can positively impact communities and empower us all to live better lives.
From 2022-23, they achieved a 19% reduction in scope one and two emissions, an 8% reduction in electricity consumption, a 4% reduction in water consumption, and a 36.8% reduction in waste. That, alongside countless initiatives and additions, the club is set to revolutionise the impact of elite-level football.
The players are crucial to the successful rollout of such projects and ideas. The club can gain real traction with the fans and wider community by utilising their influence. That’s why figures like Manuel must champion these causes at every opportunity.
“Football brings such joy to so many people on this planet, and to be able to contribute to that makes me very proud to be involved in the game,” he says. “We know that football has a massive impact on everyone who loves the sport. As I said, a big part of being a professional footballer is knowing that fans look up to you as a role model and someone they take inspiration from.
“That fills me with great pride and highlights my responsibility to use my platform to help tackle issues and bring awareness to what you’ve mentioned. At Manchester City, our City in the Community charity does incredible things to support the local community and bring us closer to the fans, which is very special at City.”
On and off the pitch, Manchester City is an exceptional football club. They continue to set trends within the Premier League and simultaneously lay the foundations for future generations within the community. That being said, as footballers, Manuel and his teammates are responsible for achieving on the pitch first and foremost — something he is acutely aware of.
When asked ‘what’s next for Manuel Akanji’, his answer is clear and concise: “to repeat it.” One thing is for sure: it will be challenging, but if there was ever a squad capable of achieving the unimaginable, it’s Manchester City.
“I want to do the same thing again,” says Manuel. “You have to prove every year that you are still the best team in the world or want to be the best. It starts all over again, and we’re not first right now, so we need to get back to it. We have started well in the Champions League, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Despite his unimaginable success, Manuel has remained grounded and down to earth — a testament to his upbringing and character. He has become a shining star in an already glittering constellation at Man City and, undoubtedly, an inspiration to millions of hopefuls who dream of starring on the grandest stage.
No one knows what the future holds for Manuel, but one thing is for sure: there is so much more to come. So buckle up, football fans; Manuel Akanji’s meteoric rise shows no sign of slowing down.
I had a lot of fun working with the team. I haven't done a lot of photoshoots but I felt really comfortable in the outfits that I wore. The photos that we did and the interview, I felt really comfortable and maybe we could do it again some time.