It’s Tuesday morning, I’m on my way into The Big Smoke, with the topic of conversation between myself and myself this morning being on false dawns and fabulous successes when it comes to young players. I can tell you one thing right now: I couldn’t spot a superstar at a young age if I tried.
I’m not talking really young here. There are people who watch the under-18s, see players regularly and often are able to make comments about players who are quite spectacular in the youth ranks, who then go on to make fantastic careers at usually another club but very occasionally at Arsenal.
Why am I thinking about young players? Well, it’s probably obvious to you, because of the rise to prominence of Iwobi. But I thought I’d spell it out anyway. You see, I thought that Iwobi looked OK, but I didn’t envisage him smashing down the door and pushing himself front and centre for a first team starting birth this season. I wasn’t even sure that he’d ever make it. He’s got the physicality, but on the few times I’d seen him it looked like he had a bit of the Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ about him. Tall, strong, talked of highly within the youth ranks at the club but ultimately, he was never going to make it and became another player with whom Arsenal could cash in after a few loans.
That’s what tends to happen with most of our loan players and I thought that Iwobi would be another one. But so far, particularly in the last three games, so good. He has also looked good in the FA Cup games he’s been asked to play in, so perhaps this promotion he’s had isn’t entirely unexpected, albeit most welcome.
But his work isn’t done, not by a long shot, oh no. It’s lovely for us to think that a home-grown 19-year-old could establish himself as a significant player for Arsenal for years to come, but we’ve had plenty of false dawns in the last ten years, so I hope your excitement over the young Nigerian international is tempered like mine.
Remember Craig Eastmond? He made a couple of decent appearances for the first team, then realised he liked Nando’s more than anything in the world, was barely seen again after a brief sojourn as a first team player.
Or how about Bendtner? He looked very impressive at 18, yet we all know how that turned out, which in hindsight given the personality is probably quite obvious.
Incidentally, a number of years ago I went to an Arsenal reserves versus Spuds reserves a number of years ago, with a few players on show that you might remember. Fabrice Muamba, Alex Song, Arturo Lupoli and Bendtner. The two that stood out that day were actually Muamba and Lupoli and I remember hearing out of Stevenage’s ground saying to a few mates that I thought both of those players had it in them to make the first team one day. As it was, the two that were fairly anonymous were the ones that broke through, albeit without any major success and eventually moving on.
So all this is to say that I’m really quite pants at predicting whether players are going to make the grade or not. Iwobi has the potential and is showing the application, but he needs to now demonstrate consistency, humility and probably the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. We all remember the curious case of Emmanuel Frimpong. I was talking to Steve and Giles in the pub before the Watford game about young players who have been highly thought of in recent past, and do you know who they told me was one of the most highly rated of recent times, by the club and management? Yep, that man who makes up words and turns them into a brand, which became more important than keeping his focus and humility and now the result is that he’s plying his trade overseas somewhere.
I hope Iwobi uses those stories of former failures as a decent case study to ensure he established himself before he starts to get his swagger on. Earn your stripes through application and humility, then when you’ve proven you can do it on a regular basis, by all means bust out a clothing line for teenagers to flock towards in their thousands.
The good thing Iwobi has on his side is that we will probably not find ourselves in a title race within the next couple of games if Leicester keep picking up 1-0 wins, so the pressure will be off and he’ll be in a team who have little to play for, so the pressure will be off him to make the most of every single touch he gets. On Saturday he picked up the ball twice in defensive territory in my corner of the ground and was a little hurried in two clearances straight to Watford players. There was a couple of sighs around me because we were only 1-0 up at he time, but that little passage of play where he lacked composure will have been forgotten by most and not even seen by many. That sort of thing happens to a young footballer all the time, but it’s how he then reacts to that disappointing little passage of play, that will define his development. It would be easy to have just steered clear of the ball for a couple of minutes after you’ve lost it, but within a minute and a half of his second misplaced pass, he was on the ball again and I think distributed it to Özil to start another attack.
Football can be a lot about the little victories as much as the fantastically taken goals. Little passages of play in which a play can build his confidence allow them to build up to doing things that create chances. The best players in the world ignore the mistakes they make and quickly try to eradicate the memory of them straight afterwards. That’s a positive in Iwobi that I saw on Saturday and I hope it’s something that will remain with him throughout his career.
Oh, and don’t get injured, let’s not forget that particular issue.
Righto, you’ve read enough of my prattling on for another day, so I’m off into a tunnel. Smell ya later.
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