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Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm – Benik Afobe

Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm -Benik Afobe
by Jonathan Neale

Ahhh scenic Dagenham – the shining jewel of East London. A place so evocative Linda Smith once wrote, “Erith isn’t twinned with anywhere, but it does have a suicide pact with Dagenham”.

It may have a bit of a run-down, rough-as-nuts, working-class reputation but, in it’s own way, Dagenham has done us all rather well. Especially me, as it happens.

Okay, so I’ve never actually been to Dagenham. But I liked Dudley Moore and he is one of Dagenham’s famous sons. I also went out, briefly, with a girl who came from Dagenham. A delightful creature called Dana. And yes, OKAY, so Dana didn’t actually like Dagenham either. Or even have anything good to say about it.

It was Dana, incidentally, who introduced me to the phrase to be “totally Dagenham”, of which I was rather fond. It means to be COMPLETELY insane and is related etymologically to the phrase ‘Barking mad’: If you go a few stops BEYOND Barking on the District Line, you get to Dagenham! That might be where Mason lives. I’m not sure.

But, the thing is, Dana turned out rather well – for one thing she genuinely liked football and, perhaps more crucially, she could tie a cherry stem with her tongue. So in my crazy world – Dagenham is alright.

It’s at this point that you are wondering, when the hell I am going to talk about something that has to do with The Arsenal. Well, as we know, patience is in very short supply amongst some of The Arsenal fans these days, so I’m figuring the more convoluted my introductions get the more I can annoy the D&G’s. Maybe they won’t have even got this far.

Okay – here we go then. As a starter Arsenal fans, both patient and impatient alike, can rejoice in the merits of Dagenham – for giving home and schooling to the great Tony Adams. Tony’s father, Alex, was captain of the local team ‘Stedfast’, for eight years.

In a broader football sense, Dagenham has served football rather well too. Sir Alf Ramsey, who led England to their only World Cup success, was from there. So too Terry Venables, Jimmy Greaves and errrrr, Paul Konchesky. All proper Dagenham lads.

Now, once again, Dagenham is back on The Arsenal & England football map with youth team goal machine Benik Afobe. This young lad is a ‘star in the rising’ – in prodigious fashion and at a prolific rate. If you haven’t heard of him already, you will.

Though being born in Dagenham might not sound the most auspicious start to life, Benik Afobe might well have never been born at all but for the fact that his Congolese father, Ange, successfully fled the war torn African region, in fear for his life. Ange first arrived in England in 1990 and settled down in East London. It was here where his young son was first spotted, some years later, by Arsenal scouts. The club liked what they saw and a trial was quickly followed by a school-boy contract.

At this point I should warn you that Benik holds a dark secret – after two seasons he left Arsenal and played briefly for Spurs. The good news is that he has since been rescued from the inept clutches of The Dark Side and re-educated in The Arsenal way.

Looking at Benik’s history. Two things are immediately clear.

1. He is always being asked to play with and against older age groups.

2. In spite of this, he scores an incredible amount of goals.

At 12 years old, his first season for the team, Benik was playing against 13 year olds. Most of them would have been faster, bigger & stronger. But it must be said Benik is no slouch in these departments and he was utterly undaunted scoring, as he did, 35 goals in 40 matches.

The next season he hit 40 from 50.

After missing a season through an an injury-ridden dalliance with The Dark Side, Benik got a call to come ‘home’ to The Arsenal and boy was he back with a bang.

Playing for the under 16’s, in spite of being only 14, he was still the team’s top scorer. In total Benik has scored 120 goals for the under 16’s.

Benik was also a crucial figure in The Arsenal youth side, which won the Atalanta Cup last summer, scoring twice in the group stages as well as a penalty in the shoot-out which helped secure the title.

From there his selection to play a year early for the England U16’s was a formality. Again Benik, just got on and did what he does best – making it look easy by scoring two goals on debut (against Ireland) and one in the next fixture (against Wales) as part of The Charity Shield Tournament. Going into the final fixture there was much talk of him equaling or bettering the all time record for this competition, held by Michael Owen. Needing a brace to equal it he fell cruelly short but, nonetheless, he still found the score sheet in the tricky tie against Scotland.

Benik has since had his first, run out with the reserves becoming the youngest ever Arsenal player to do so in the process. The previous holder was Jack Wilshere.

I could go on and on with the numbers but to be honest they are all bewilderingly promising – here is some recent rhapsodising about Benik from Young Guns
http://youngguns.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/afobe-quietly-becomes-arsenal%E2%80%99s-brightest-prospect/

Having seen him play just twice in person, I am a big fan of his physicality and commitment. The playing talent and his energetic all-round game seems to come naturally and is there for all to see and, predictably, the head-spinning comparisons have started already (Samuel Eto’o, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler). He definitely is in that ‘clinical striker’ mould – the kind of striker Arsenal have not really had since Ian Wright (except Benik is good with his head too!).

BUT, comparisons like this are unhelpful shorthand at best – Benik is his own man and will etch his own name in time. So long as he keeps his feet on the ground and continues the work at being the best he can be (especially as the as the hype starts to gather momentum) there is no reason to suspect he will not make it as a professional.

Whilst writing this, I had a very brief e-chat with Benik on his Myspace, I just wanted to see if I could ask him a few questions and give this article the once over. Unfortunately he is prevented from answering questions by the club, but he was kind enough to write back to me, to explain and apologise – I thought he came across really rather well.

I knew Dagenham was alright.

Name: Benik Afobe
Age: 15
Position: Out & out Striker
Nationality: English (Dagenham!)
Height: 6ft

12 comments to Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm – Benik Afobe

  • Flint McCullough

    Another interesting & entertaining article, Jonathon.

    I do wonder however if it may be a mistake to give these particularly young lads too much to live up to.

    There are very many hugely talented kids, out there, but very few make it, mainly because they are unable, in 1 way or another, to handle the growing pressure.

    It may be better to keep them away from that expectation until it cannot be held back.

  • daokta

    Good article JN – though too much info on Dagenham for me I am afraid! Another excellent prospect in the same mould (and also of African descent) to watch out for is Zak Ansah.

  • pig

    more home grown talent. excellent.
    it really does make good sense to grow these players than pay OTT transfer fees for english ones.
    its great to read an arsenal article without a mention of the transfer market.

  • Terence McGovern

    Incredible level of detail yet again there JN!

    It is only proper that Arsenal fans get to know the players coming through the ranks beyond what the media tell them.

    It is onlt then, that some sectors of support will truly realise how impressive a machine Arsene Wenger and Liam Brady have built together in unison with a fine set of coaches upon whom no resourses were spared.

  • steww

    Thoroughly enjoyable read. I know as much about Dagenham as I will ever need to and look forward to watching this young man progress.

  • MOMONEY

    What will the criticism be once 3/4 of the English national team is from Arsenal in about 6-7 years??? Might be worth a post in itself lol

  • steww

    @ Momoney – Why not write it mate? On this blog from what I can see they actively encourage contributions from their readers. From my point of view it might make me pay attention again when England play. I cannot cheer a side made up of Man U and Chelsea players. I strongly suspect it won’t be long and we’ll see quite a few Arsenal players available to a lucky England manager. Maybe that’s Arsene’s plan. Become England manager in 10 years time and win the world cup with what is now our youth and reserve team.
    Oh how sweet would that be!

  • kelsey

    The Webster ruling basically states that players under 28 when they signed their contract can buy out the remaining 3 years of their contract and that players over 28 can do so with the remaining 2 years of their contract.
    ——————-

    Good morning I have taken the above comment from a previous post on here”Understand how the transfer Window works”as I am a great believer that the club should initially be stable with the players currently on the pay roll before deciding of or not, to strengthen certain areas of the team.

    My main question revolves around RVP.He has two years left on his contract, and he is leaving his options open as to sign a further extension to his contract, as he is wanting guarantees that we will strengthen in quality,this summer, at least as i understand it.

    I am sorry if this is not on topic,but possibly if the reported rumours today that Inter are prepared to offer 25 million for his services, and he has already had informal discussions with Real Madrid, does Mr.Wenger decide that Robin is part of his integral future plans,which he has already indicated, or does he possibly sell him now as by next year his value may plummet and he will be one year less on his current contract.

  • kelsey

    I think I didn’t read the Webster ruling correctly, as RVP is under 28 with only 2 years left on his contract, it doesn’t apply,(I think)

  • To answer one point above, as editor of the site I really do welcome posts from readers as long as they fit in with our general mission statement of supporting Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal. If you would like to contribute please email Tony@hamilton-house.com

    And I would like to add my thanks to JN for the article and the research behind it. A really great read and a pleasure for me to be able to include it on Untold Arsenal.

    Tony

  • Valentin

    If I were you I would not start celebrating his career yet. I do not want to jinx him, I am not as sure as you that he will be a future Arsenal star. Benik Afobe is very good and has always been played with boys older than he is, but you have to take in account the fact that he is very tall for his age.
    The advantage that he currently enjoy against boys his own age will disappear as he gets older. The main difficulty will be how he handle the fact that he will not be able to bully defender as he can in his previous age group.
    The same thing is happening to Jay-Emmanuel Thomas who is a huge boy, but has not set the reserve alight this year. JET looks outstanding in the YOuth Cup and in the U18, but looks less than stellar at the reserve level.
    The other point is that to be successful at Arsenal you need to be world class and one of the top English player in your position. the EPL is litted with former Arsenal trainees and Arsenal school boys who could not make the jump from talented youngster to world class player.

  • MOMONEY

    Haha thanks guys but I’m no writer. If I have a bit of extra time over the summer I may give it a shot though…