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.
Watch Arsenal Live Streams With StreamFootball.tv
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
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
Position: Out & out Striker
Nationality: English (Dagenham!)