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Should he stay or should he go? Arsenal’s Balogun is at a crossroad on a well-trodden path…

balogunYesterday, news broke through the Athletic that our own Folarin Balogun was due to sign a pre-contract agreement with an unnamed foreign club. Now that is a bit gutting to many Gunners fans as it is clear as day that this kid is a talent and has the potential to be a top player. The speculation on whether he would sign a new contract is something that has swung above the head of the club like the Sword of Damocles for the best part of a year now.

It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to youth football: these kids initially sign medium-length contracts in the hope that they develop to the levels that result in being ready for first team football. It is always a gamble and a game of chess between Player, Club and of course their family/agents on whether they prove their worth, which then results in a more lucrative, longer term contract.

It’s that in-between grey area period in which a player can weigh up their options and then struggle to resist the temptation to peer over into other fields and see if the grass looks a little greener when it becomes apparent they are wanted elsewhere. When a player is not deemed quite the level that the club is looking for; to then release them is a swift and ruthless process no young player wants to experience. There’s potentially a villain on either side of the negotiation table.

Clubs invest a lot in their youth development and to see fruition of their time and money is always gratifying – so  the odd time when a player decides pass up on a new contract and move elsewhere can be disappointing and frustrating. Questions get asked and failsafes are  put in place to avoid losing big talents for nothing in future.

Fans don’t always understand – or should I say accept – such decisions, but when playing devil’s advocate it is not always greed that can lead a player to want to choose a different path to take their career to the next stage.

Factors come into play: do they see a path to the first team or is it blocked by other players ahead of them? Some youngsters just want to play football wherever they can get it and see first team opportunities may present themselves a lot sooner at other clubs; or it could simply be bad advice from an agent or family. There isn’t always patience from young players and when being told they are not ready yet it may be hard to take especially if they glance at the first team and see themselves as better than senior players in their position. Some may not accept being told they still have flaws to work on when other clubs tell them the opposite and promise first team football.

Arsenal have had their fair share of players lost on a free through reluctance to sign a contract over the years, some of those players have gone on to carve top level careers whilst others have not quite hit the levels they may have envisioned. It really is a gamble and being the star player or biggest prospect at one club doesn’t always equate to being that same stature of player elsewhere.

You could list such names as Marcus McGuane, Josh Dasilva, Xavier Ameachi and Chris Williock as players over recent years who decided to refuse a contract and move on. Let’s have a little look at how those players have fared.

josh-da-silva

Josh Dasilva was highly rated and it was a bit of a surprise when he went to Brentford, admittedly he has carved out a decent career with the Championship club so far and recently caught the eye in the Carabao Cup victory over Newcastle. He is very much a part of the England youth set up and a regular feature in the U21 squads.  He is definitely on the radar of bigger clubs and it won’t be long before he is gracing the Premier League with either Brentford or another club.

mcguane-barca

Marcus McGuane must have believed he hit the jackpot when he secured a move to Barcelona. You can’t begrudge a player when such a European super power comes a knocking. At the time he was on the fringes of the first team making his debut, gaining some valuable minutes in the Europa League for the Gunners. However he made the move to Spain after letting his contract run down, I believe making a first team appearance in a Super Cup game but primarily played for the Barcelona B team. After a while he went on loan to Holland for a season and was then signed by Nottingham Forest playing for their reserve team initially before being sent out on loan this season to Oxford United.  He could well turn out to be a fine player but you can’t help but feel he has taken a lot of sideways moves in his career so far and wonder was it worth leaving Arsenal when he did.

amaechi-hamburg-

Xavier Amaechi you have to say has been a bit unlucky in his Arsenal career. He looked a top talent in all the times I had seen him and looked a dead cert for the first team. He was up there with Reiss Nelson at the time in my opinion and making that left side of attack his own. Then misfortune struck, he suffered a bad injury that put him out of the team and the limelight for a while. In that time he was on the treatment table the first team then had a requirement for an attacking left sided player and low and behold a kid from the group of scholars younger that Ameachi’s was promoted to the reserves to fill in. Based on impressive performances for the reserves that certain Buyako Saka was afforded minutes in the first team and hasn’t looked back since. Ameachi on the other hand returned to fitness but wasn’t in a position to usurp the new star kid on the block. Seeing his pathway blocked he decided to take on a new adventure abroad in Germany and is currently plying his trade for Hamburger SV. He is still very young and I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before we see him back on these shores hopefully at highest level.

willock-qpr

Chris Willock’s name is better known given to the fact his brother Joe is very much a current first team player at Arsenal. Chris was probably deemed as the most talented of the three Willock brothers. He was certainly highly rated within the club and was given first team minutes in the League cup by Arsene Wenger. Sadly he didn’t see his future at the club and upon the expiration of his contract decided to take on an adventure in Portugal by signing for Benfica. Similar to McGuane this didn’t result in first team football for Benfica but a playing career for their B team. This resulted after a couple seasons with some loan spells back in the UK firstly with West Brom and then with Huddersfield Town. He eventually left Benfica and was signed permanently by QPR this season where he’s plying his trade in the Championship.

There’s no guarantee that had any of these players stayed on with the Arsenal would be first team regulars and still at the club today – however we have always had a history of giving opportunities to youngsters. Many have carved out good careers for themselves based on the experience provided in the Arsenal team. If Balogun does indeed pass up on signing a contract and moves on he isn’t the first and he won’t be the last to make that choice. There’s no guarantee he will fulfil all of his potential if he stays; conversely he cannot be guaranteed to fulfill it elsewhere. One thing we can assure him as fans is there is a massive belief in his abilities and there has subsequently been a big push (mainly on social media) for Mikel Arteta to afford him more minutes in the first team.  I for one hope he does stay but if he does decide to move on then good luck to him. We move forward as a club regardless if it’s a first team player or a youth prospect that chooses to leave and respect all former players… well… most of them.

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One Response to Should he stay or should he go? Arsenal’s Balogun is at a crossroad on a well-trodden path…

  1. chris January 8, 2021 at 10:06 am #

    Give Balogun some decent game time instead of Nketiah – who has had plenty of chances and not made the most of them.

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