By Tony Attwood
“Golden Generation” is one of those phrases that is generally either used far too early, or way to late (as in the all too common phrase “whatever happened to…” after the players en masse have failed to live up to the hype
I am sure I can be proven wrong, but I rather fancy that I have never used the phrase in relation to the players coming through at Arsenal. But really what else can we say about Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Smith Rowe and Nketiah all emerging at once?
Is it just chance that we have these four wonderful players on our books all at the same time? Or is it a sign that the Arsenal training programme with all its facilities, so eloquently described by Walter recently, is really bearing fruit?
Is it indeed quite simply that our reputation as a club is so good, the facilities so fantastic and the taint of scandal and double dealing so far removed from our doors, that the very best youngsters want to come to Arsenal?
These last points most certainly can’t be ignored. The scandal Liverpool had recently, to take one example, with its tapping up allegations, the reports of falsifying documents, running a regular ordinary family into massive debt because of unpaid school fees, and the club being fined and banned from signing schoolboys, was a desperate tragedy for the families caught up in it. But it can only have helped us.
Manchester City likewise got a transfer ban on signing schoolboy players following nefarious activities, and the reputation of Chelsea as a meat exporter has, I would suspected, dented the willingness of some families to allow their talented children to go to that club.
Arsenal has remained perfectly free from such tales, has a long term reputation for bringing through youngsters across the years, and has (as noted) wonderful training facilities. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
And so we have Reiss Nelson scoring from 30 yards in an international against Scotland. Out of which has emerged another factor – that the club is encouraging mentoring of youngsters by senior players. Nelson is seems is a close mate of Hector Bellerin.
The story is told that after training the pair would stay behind and work together on dead ball skills and one v ones.
Reiss Nelson, currently with Hoffenheim, where his friend Jadon Sancho plays, now has two England under 21 caps, and two goals – having scored against Andorra as well. He was PL2 player of the year last season, and oh yes and he once had a trial with Tottenham, before seeing the right path to follow – which makes it all the sweeter.
And the influence of Bellerin looks just right for this young man, for Bellerin is the perfect example of the footballer who has taken an interest in matters way beyond playing computer games.
The big question for all the players is how many of them will be able to get into the team? In this regard the existence of four competitions, and where needed the high profile loan spell, as Nelson is on now, are each obviously a benefit.
Each player of course has his own distinctive attributes. Smith Rowe can seemingly play in a multiplicity of positions and while he didn’t have the misfortune of an early period with Tottenham, he was persued by Tottenham in his formative years. Chelsea also tried to pull him in as did Barcelona.
Smith Rowe joined the under 23s aged 16, he is known for his sense of humour and getting on with everyone – which are two things never taught to footballers in the academies which is a great shame. For a century English football has assumed that the player is how he is, and the club’s job is not to mould his personality – a curious English approach to education. Fortunately, Emile SR didn’t need the help. And he was in the under 17 World Cup winning team last season.
And here’s another thing: he spent the summer at an athletics centre, training to be even faster in his sprinting. Now that is the sort of summer story surely we all want to hear.
As Mr Emery has said, “He is an example for other young players and the academy because we need to continue giving them chances but only when they deserve to have these chances.”
As for Maitland-Niles – he’s already a fixture in the first team squad – which just leaves Eddie. I spent much of the summer raving over his performances for England in the tournament in France, but this season he seems to have been kept more in the background. Maybe the next league cup match is going to be his breakthrough moment.
We have four stunning younsters in the squad – and of course more knocking on the door. A real golden generation if ever I saw one. And this one, I really do believe, will flourish.
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