by Tony Attwood
Two things started me on this piece. One was a correspondent trying to suggest Arsenal don’t sign enough players (I’ll come back to that) and a piece in the Telegraph under the heading “10 young players Arsenal fans can get excited about this season”.
I was fascinated by this, and wondered if it were part of a series of articles highlighting the ten top youth players from all the clubs in the Premier League.
So I went onto Google and typed in
young players fans can get excited about this season
the range of articles found, even with varying the headline, was very limited. Four Four Two has a headline from last season “5 Chelsea youngsters fans can get excited about”, but nothing else in a major outlet for this coming season.
There is an article on 5 August 2013 headed “WHY TOTTENHAM FANS SHOULD GET EXCITED ABOUT THIS £30M PRODIGY” which is all about “21-year-old forward Eric Lamela” who they bought from Roma. But that’s mostly it – single player stories.
In January this year the Mail did a piece on the hottest 10 prospects in world football. Mostly these were youngsters with non-English clubs but there were two with English teams at the time
TIMOTHY FOSU-MENSAH of Manchester United a 17 year old central defender
DONYELL MALEN of Arsenal a 16 year old centre forward of whom the Mail said,
“Arsenal saw off competition from a host of other leading European clubs to sign Malen from the prestigious academy at Ajax last summer. The 16-year-old hasn’t yet decided on his best position – he’s equally adept at leading the line or utilising his pace in a wide position.
“Malen has already played for Arsenal’s Under 19 team in the UEFA Youth League and the club’s Under 21 side – both ahead of schedule. He was the guy who scored a great goal on his under 21 debut.”
So mostly what we get are articles in which the journalist phones up the head of the youth section in various clubs and ask who their big prospects are and makes a list of the “10 most” out of that. To do a “10 most” out of one club is very unusual. I won’t say unique because I am sure with enough searching I must be able to find one or two others, but it is unusual.
The ten that the Telegraph pick are
- Eddie Nketiah
- Donyell Malen
- Stephy Mavididi
- Gedion Zelalem
- Krystian Bielik
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles
- Daniel Crowley
- Jeff-Reine Adelaide
- Chuba Akpom
- Alex Iwobi
Of course even without the sort of knowledge that Andrew provides on this site relating to the youngsters there are names on the list that we will also recognise, and quite probably names that we might not have picked up on thus far.
But the extent of the list, is, I think, something to behold. I’ve heard Mr Wenger talk a number of times about the way in which youngsters can show amazing talent and then two years later you wonder what on earth happened. And this is what makes such a list all the more extraordinary; these guys are still there fighting their way through.
We’ve heard that Gedion Zelalem had an up and down season at Rangers – a tough training ground in the second tier of Scottish football if ever there was one – and some have wondered if such an amazing early talent will ultimately bloom. I can’t say, but I can say that when you have ten extraordinary talents there is every chance one of them will come through.
Indeed one of them has of course – Alex Iwobi. And before him Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin. But these players are never considered in terms of “new arrivals” because of the slavish way in which people like to follow the lead of the press. If you pay less than £20m it’s irrelevant, and £20m is just middle-of-the-range these days.
As for my second reason for this piece, mentioned at the start, this morning, before writing this article, I published a comment by one of the regular naysayers in which he listed a range of clubs and asked rhetorically what all these clubs have in common. Three of them were PL teams that ended up below Arsenal, last season, and also on the list was Barcelona.
The answer to the question that the writer required was that they all spend big in the transfer market and Arsenal doesn’t do it so often. I would agree, but the club does buy big (Granit, Alexis and Ozil have all been big signings of course) but maybe we don’t buy big as often as everyone else.
However that question could also be answered by the fact that they all have more money than Arsenal, and by the fact that I suspect all of them would like a youth development and nurturing system like Arsenal’s. Indeed Barcelona are “reportedly” trying to bid £42m to get Bellerin back in a re-run of their DNA Escapades with Fabregas. If they were that good at arranging things, surely they wouldn’t have to resort to this.
Having a player transfer for £30m+ is great for the papers; easy money for the journalists who toddle over to the training ground, listen to the speeches and write it up, after three months of suggesting that the club in question is going to buy any number of other players. (The Arsenal Transfer Index that we run each week is now at over 80 players that Arsenal have been “linked to” or are “set to”, and I suspect other major clubs are at a similar level, but simply lack the equivalent of an Untold to do the hard work of listing them all).
And there is a lot of noise because we have only bought one big name new player thus far. You might put Iwobi down as a “signing” from last season (although he only played 13 league games in 2015/16). Or you might put him as doing a trial last season, and a new man for this. But really one way or another he has to be counted as do Bellerin (now for us the equivalent of a £40m signing) and Coquelin.
In fact if we don’t allow the media to define what a “new player arrival” means, and instead use the much more logical approach of including transfers and promotions from within, we now have
joining the club last season and this summer. That is more than half a team transformed in the past year. And half the list are youngsters. Even if you want to be really pedantic and put Coquelin back to the year before as he made his break through in early 2015, we still have five such players. Changing the team much more is going to upset all stability.
What this suggests, and what the Telegraph article suggests (loathe though I am to find myself agreeing with them) is that Arsenal does bring through players of exquisite quality each year, and deliberately excluding them from any analysis of new talent is quite illogical.
Plus it suggests that there ought to be at least one more this season. Donyell Malen will probably have to wait another year or two (he is still only 17), Gedion Zelalem might have faded at Rangers in the second half of the season, and Chuba Akpom was not a goal scoring force for Hull. But that should not mean those last two players are now spent forces. Many have had a poor season and come back. But just look at some of the other names on the Telegraph list. If you have watched any of them you will know there is a chance of that sudden, amazing breakthrough that we have seen with Bellerin, Iwobi and Coquelin.
Krystian Bielik (aged 18), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (18 but with a problematic mum) – I don’t see them week by week but they are possible names. Daniel Crowley has gone to Oxford – so maybe not this coming season, but Jeff-Reine Adelaide, who wowed us all in the Ems Cup last summer… He could be the one.
I can’t guarantee it, but I suspect somewhere there is a “signing” for the season as big as Iwobi, Coquelin and Bellerin. And I still haven’t given up all hope on Serge Gnabry.
But let me end with a laugh. While searching around to see if anyone else had made lists of young players who could breakthrough this year, I found this, dated 22 May 2016.
“Arsenal may not be producing a massive amount of young talent…”
It’s good to have a little chuckle.
The Untold Preview of the Under 18, Under 19, and Under 21 squads.
- Part one – Overview and summary
- Part two – Goalkeepers and defenders
- Part three – Midfield
- Part four – Attackers