I frequently come across debates about clubs and their youth products and what teams are worthy of taking pride in producing talent.
I find this to be a fairly unique topic because the talent a club has ‘produced’ seems to be generally misinterpreted.
When I found myself in a relative debate concerning youngsters Arsenal have produced, I was told we don’t compare to the likes of West Ham and Southampton.
Those teams in particular are quite matchless regarding the amount of British talent produced, one could argue there’s less pressure that allows a large number of youth players to break into each respective first team a lot easier than clubs involved in Europe.
This rather moronic debater stated that we can only take credit for Jack Wilshere who he still tried to claim was from Luton originally. I mean come on that was before he was nine years old!
He totally ignored Kieran Gibbs, who he claimed was from Wimbledon, which he was until the age of 15. Wojciech Szczesny also came in at 15 and was later promoted from the youth team.
I am of the belief that Arsenal or Arsene Wenger, whichever way you may look at it, can take credit for where these players are currently at in their careers and can consider these players to have been ‘nurtured’ by the club.
The development of a football player from about 6-15 years old is not to be ignored, it’s a massive period in a kid’s development and does determine whether he will make it or not, but there’s so much more to do beyond that.
While it’s no secret that I’m not Wenger’s greatest fan, I judge him as fairly as I can and for it to be suggested that ‘his talent nurturing is overhyped’ is absurd!
This guy really tried to argue this case, stating that ‘Thierry Henry came as a World Cup winner’ or that ‘Cesc Fabregas learnt everything at Barca’ is well, to put it kindly rather naive.
Thierry Henry still joined the club as an unpredictable winger with little more than pace to his game, he then finished as the greatest forward this league has ever seen.
Fabregas also played for the first team regularly at 17 and became a catalyst for the club further on, earning his place in a Spanish squad that had an embarrassment of world class options in his position.
Fabregas always speaks fondly of Arsenal because he acknowledges the guidance of Arsene Wenger in his career.
Poking a hole in the line ‘Fabregas learnt everything at Barca’ was pretty simple. I mean, coincidentally, things didn’t work out at Barcelona for Cesc Fabregas when he went back to the Nou Camp.
Having closely reviewed the opinions of Barcelona followers on Cesc post departure, it seemed that he never really fitted in at Barcelona (on the field).
They tried him up front, as a withdrawn forward, in midfield and he couldn’t quite nail a place down. He was outlasted by the man he was supposed to soon succeed in Xavi.
Funnily enough, he’s back in the Premier League and at his best. Despite his elegant style he is suited to hustle and bustle of England, which is further proof the most vital stage of his development was overseen by Arsenal.
Making it through the youth teams is a credible achievement but the transition into first team football at the highest level is the most testing.
The amount of unproven youngsters that plied their trade and improved under Wenger is not to be underestimated, players that largely improved from being at the club by the age of 21 can be credited to Wenger.
Although most aren’t necessarily youth products I think Wenger and the club can take large portion of credit for the establishment of players such as Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure Ashley Cole, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, all of whom I believe were ‘nurtured’ into top class pro’s by the club.
You even have late bloomers like Laurent Koscielny who has improved sensationally at Arsenal having come from the French Ligue 2.
Of course one could argue that these players could have reached their heights regardless and Arsenal were merely a platform, but in Koscielny’s case his improvement has been fairly evident.
A skinny defender, with some decent raw attributes said to ‘always have a mistake in him’ who now in my opinion is one of the finest ball-playing defenders in Europe, I rate him very highly and he can certainly be credited as one of Wenger’s better finds – Possibly Arsene’s best crafted defender. The player wasn’t bought at a ready-made high level ala Sol Campbell, Per Mertesacker, William Gallas etc.
A case can be made for a 21-year-old utility player called Kolo Toure.
Kolo came as a winger with good physique and was later modified into one of the most dependable central defenders the club has ever had!
Does the club not take any credit for that?
Arsenal won’t top any rankings when we’re technically debating numbers of youth products produced but they rank fairly high when discussing talent the club has nurtured into top class players that is for certain.
Let’s hope this new batch of young talent in Chuba Akpom, Calum Chambers, Hector Bellerin, Gedion Zelalem, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Serge Gnabry, Yaya Sanogo (please come good) reach a good level to help maintain and improve the standards set by the club regardless of where they bloody played a few years ago!