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Why do Arsenal let so many talented youngsters get away?

By Tony Attwood

This is one of the regular complaints from some bloggers, complaints which are then often taken up by journalists.  Why does Arsenal recruit all these fabulous youngsters and then let them drift away?

Various names are mentioned: Serge Gnabry, Jeff Reine-Adelaide Ismael Bennacer, Krystian Bielik are just the most recent.   And of course jumping on the bandwagon the journalists claim that the club should be wondering whether selling [fill in the gap of any player you want to name] was a bad mistake.

So for once, rather than just moaning and moaning about the players who have got away, let’s do the sensible thing.  The thing that bloggers and journalists so rarely want to tackle.   The thing that has the word that scares journalists stupid and which their editors tell them never ever to go near.   The question “why?”

Why do Arsenal let so many talented youngsters get away?

Here’s the answer – or rather lots of answers.

First, because of the way journalists and bloggers pitch their articles we don’t know if Arsenal are any worse than other clubs.  Do Arsenal in fact get more young players of talent than others?  Do Arsenal make more mis-judgements than anyone else?   Or do all clubs get it wrong so often?

This is an important question because without knowing the statistics from other clubs we can’t dismiss the idea that for all clubs, some young players will get away, perhaps because their talent develops late, perhaps because in their early days they were injured a lot, or perhaps because the player was making demands Arsenal felt would upset the other players in the club.

Second, and moving on from the final element of the first point, is it Arsenal that kicks out the players or indeed just lets them move on, or is it that the player is making impossible demands?   Some youngsters and their agents are very full of themselves, not wanting to wait, not wanting to get to full maturity, but insisting they are ready now.   Arsenal see the talent, but don’t feel the player is quite ready.  So the agent (who makes money from every transfer) finds the player another club, a club that says they will play the player now, and off they go.   Some of them succeed, some of them slip away.  Some are quiet for a while, but then burst on the scene.

But I think what does happen is that the players take a step down a league or two, and then do come good, and so become another “one that got away”.  In short there is a bit of futurology going on here.  How well can Arsenal read the future?  How well can other clubs read the future?

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Third, is it worth keeping players who eventually don’t make it in order to find the few that do?  Think of Chelsea that in recent years has had 50+ youngsters out on loan.  Is that the right way to run things?  Is it the moral way?

A very small percentage of Chelsea’s notorious bunch of youngsters out on loan at Chelsea-linked clubs in Europe actually come back and play for Chelsea.  Yes, using this method, which would be illegal if Uefa ever proved a direct financial link between Chelsea and one of the clubs, Chelsea can seek to find the talent – but the cost in terms of players who don’t make it, is high.

Fourth, we readily forget the players that fans beg the manager to give particular players a go, who are given a chance, and who then don’t actually make it.   We need to chart the ones the club gets right as well as the ones they get wrong.

Fifth, in recent years both Chelsea and Liverpool have been found guilty of breaking the rules about young players, with Liverpool in particular being criticised for the way they promised a lot to the family of a young player.  If you missed this story it is still on line under the heading, “Liverpool told father of youth signing to lie in tapping cover-up scandal.”    Between the two, these clubs have been working very close to  the edge of the rules, and it is not a coincidence that Chelsea are now banned from making transfers.  Some people don’t like it, but Arsenal plays by the rules.

Sixth, we should remember that when fans choose a young player to praise and praise, this is often an emotional reaction, not one based on facts.   If the player does get into the team he then has to deliver quickly at first team level, otherwise he gets criticised again.   You might remember the sort of criticism Bellerin had to take with his first appearances.  Quite honestly I was amazed he actually wanted to stay at the club after that.   Indeed the whole argument could be reversed at this point to say that given the way some Arsenal fans treat Arsenal players it is amazing any of the youngsters want to play for us.

You might care to refer to Arsenal fans blast Ainsley Maitland-Niles

The fact is a lot of older players can take this, and are used to it.  But younger players tend to be more emotional and less mature, and some simply don’t want this type of treatment.

And seventh, were the ones who got away really that good at the time?  In this regard, consider Serge Gnabry, often quoted as a terrible loss for Arsenal.   Just look at the clubs he went through before he got to Arsenal…

1999–2000 TSV Weissach
2000–2001 TSF Ditzingen
2001–2003 GSV Hemmingen
2003–2005 SpVgg Feuerbach
2005–2006 Stuttgarter Kickers
2006–2011 VfB Stuttgart
2011–2012 Arsenal

That number of moves suggests that no club was able to work with him.  Indeed even his loan spell to WBA failed to resolve matters, and he came back to Arsenal having had issues there, before finally pulling himself together with Werder Bremen.  Yes it would have been great if it had all happened with Arsenal, but his pattern of loans suggests it was not just the clubs that were at fault.

Arsenal do give chances to young players, and in the current squad we might think of Bellerin, Holding, Maitland-Niles and Guendouzi, all of whom have had their chance and taken it.  And let us not forget that Martinez and Macey have come through our youth ranks, as have Willock, Nelson and Smith Rowe.   Others are let go like Bielik – but let’s not forget that he has signed for Derby County, and although lauded at Charlton he was playing for a League One side.  This headline “Injury curse strikes yet again for talented Jeff Reine Adelaide” tells us the problem.   Supposing we had kept him and he had taken up a place in the 25 man squad, only for his injuries to continue.  Then Arsenal would have been blamed for that error of judgement.

Which does show us – quite often with youngsters the club is taking gambles: will their attitude settle down, will the injuries pass, will their talent continue to evolve, will they be willing to wait their turn given that the squad already has a number of other talented players for that position?

Reine-Adelaide has thrived since moving back to France – and here’s another point.  Not everyone can settle away from their home country.  Let us not forget these lads are people, not machines.

Ainsley Maitland Niles was named in WhoScored’s PL team of the week for the weekend of 9-11 August.  Maybe we should celebrate the youngsters we bring through before endlessly knocking the club for the ones that got away… at least until we start to see how good or bad other clubs are at this game.

6 comments to Why do Arsenal let so many talented youngsters get away?

  • porter

    The Gnabry stats and your conclusions are to say the least a tad disingenuous . He was born in 1995 and has as most talented kids would have , advanced in junior football through 6 clubs by the time he was 16 . It doesn’t show a difficulty , just that as probably one of the better players in Stuttgart his level improved as he got older.
    Unfortunately he was sent on loan to the wrong manager in Tony Pulis who as we all know is chalk and cheese to the way that a flair player would need to develop.
    He got away disillutioned with British football, he is now thiving back home where he feels appreciated.

  • yes, tony, … and you might add that some of these lads were badly injured while at arsenal (jeff, serge, chuba, …). another way of seeing things would consist in praising arsenal for nurturing their youngsters, so much so that most of them succeed when they have to leave us, but no media will shed that kind of light on the club. the fact remains that some of us try to follow through what’s going on at the academy (thanks to arsenalplayer and jeorge bird …), we get attached to the boys, and feel for them/us when they go. having said that, i wish amaechi had stayed with us, or marcus mcguane (lost in barcelona, now), but it seems very hard for a club like arsenal to do better on that front that they’re doing at the moment (thanks to freddie?!?), with ainsley/hector/joe (at last!!!)/reiss/bukayo (emiliano too), and probably emil when he’s fit again.

  • ansar

    I totally agree with your analysis , of all the players mentioned i remember serge gnabry was offered a new contract and he was unwilling to continue and at that stage he wasnt at a level to play for arsenal, I read somewhere that when he moved to werder bremen he would go on to join bayern munich as that was the pre-arrangement, i dont exactly remember the reference and will have to look up for it again so maybe its not that authentic. The point is that arsenal over the years have given a lot of opportunities to young players,
    Another important point mentioned here was the way our crowd treats players, currently the way mustafi is being treated, the next in line would be xhaka i think , there is the thing that maybe xhaka and musti are not good for arsenal but booing them and harrassing them all over the place doesnt send a good message to other players… plus it brings their valuations down..

    Im pretty damn sure xhaka would be a great signing for a club in italian league or even in the spanish league as he has shown some flashes of the talent that emery and wenger used to trust

  • Nitram

    ansar

    Careful mate. You’ll have the Wenger police on your case before you know it.

    Never forget, you’re only allowed to mention him if your slagging him off.

  • Gord

    Part of any injury curse, is getting injured. If the referee lets opponents kick Arsenal all over the pitch, there is a good chance we will pick up injuries from this. The curse isn’t some imaginary property of the player, but rather the officials. Yes, the attitude of managers and coaches to let their players kick the opposition when allowed to by the officials is partly at fault (take advantage of any “gift” presented).

  • omgarsenal

    Based on what stats are available about EPL clubs’ reserve and youth players, it appears AFC are about average for the retention of youth talent. Every youth player realizes the following and is told this when they join AFC:

    1)They must EARN the right to play on the bench and maybe occasionally in an EPL game, based on their efforts over a few seasons, NOT a few games,

    2)The Club purchases a lot of experienced and skilled players from all over the world so a youth player had better show they are superior in attitude and play to transfers or loanees, or they move down the pecking order,

    3)Youth players, as Tony rightly pointed out, are often easily influenced by their parents,friends,family, agent(s) and of course teammates. By definition a youth player is under 23 and quite often under 21 so they lack the physicality and maturity of an experienced player like Bellerin, Nacho, Leno, Ozil etc.

    4)Many are loaned out but that is a bit of a gamble as some loans just don’t work out or end up hurting the player more than helping. That said, some loans are very worthwhile….it is all a gamble.