I read an article this morning on the BBC website about how Stephy Mavididi made his debut for Juventus in the last few weeks and has already impressed the Italian Champions since joining the club. It got me thinking about academy products and particularly Arsenal academy products because this could end up being a Pogba-esque situation for the club and unlike United, if that happens it won’t be Arsenal vying for his signature in a few years time, it’ll be the oil-whoring club’s who’ll be chasing him down.
It has got me thinking that clubs and their academy systems are a little ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. I mean Mavididi was a well thought of player, a good player, but told by the Arsenal hierarchy that his time would be limited this season. He was told he probably won’t get too close to the first team and here we are at the end of the season seeing him make substitute appearances for the Italian Champions.
I won’t lie, the first thought in my head was “ahh…I really hope we don’t regret that decision not to give him a chance” but no sooner had that entered my thought process, but the follow up thought was “yeah, but where? And what would have been the fan response?”
That’s where we as fans are also guilty. We can chastise the club all we want if Mavididi makes it and becomes a star at Juve, but ultimately we are the ones chomping at the bit for big name signings, we are the ones that might moan and grown if we sign a few players and then don’t give some of the younger players a chance. What is levelled as a reposte to that is that we are The Arsenal and we aren’t a crèche, which of course is true, but striking the balance has to be considered and I think as fans we all – definitely me included – need to temper our ire sometimes.
Football clubs like ours have hundreds of prospects on their books and they can’t all be fast tracked to the first team. Often those that do show promise develop in different ways and you can look at a player like Jay Emmanuel-Thomas as a classic case in point. We can’t just chuck in a load of young players in to the first team and then expect to have a collective of superstars naturally arrive.
Juve have given Mavididi a little taste of the big life and now it is down to him, his attitude, as well as application, to see if he’s good enough. Maybe he will be, maybe he won’t, but what we need to be better at doing is working out which of those players have the right attitude that will see them elevate themselves in to the first team.
We also need to appreciate the situation that we are in versus Juventus. They won their league at a canter, they can therefore afford to let their foot off the gas and allow younger players to be blooded in more friendly circumstances than we’ve had in recent years. I remember when we beat Southampton 6-1 at the start of the unbeaten run in 2003. It was the end of the season, Jermaine Pennant played and scored and I remember thinking “got ourselves a player here”. It obviously didn’t transpire that way but that was an Arsenal team that despite the fact we’d lost our on the league to United, we were still streets ahead of any other team and so could blood a young player in a safe environment at home towards the end of the season.
We haven’t had that kind of situation for years and as dozens of football managers have shown over decades that I’ve been watching football, the last thing they’re going to do when their job is on the line is to blood young players, so I’m not surprised that this season hasn’t seen as many young players coming through as we might have thought.
Perhaps that is a reason why Arsène was able to do it so much; he had built up enough goodwill through the early years of his reign that he was able to drop players in and do it en masse sometimes. He will not have felt any pressure from the board on results because the board did little to tell him otherwise or hold him accountable for pretty much anything.
Unai has a different problem entirely because he’s got a two year deal and we already have sections of the fan base online calling for his head. He has little margin for error and so I sympathise for his situation. He is ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ because he has to deliver results, but people will also look at his record in bringing through young talent.
As always there is a delicate balance that needs to be struck and perhaps with the infrastructure changes and people like Big Per at the club we have a better chance of identifying those gems that have the right mixture of talent, drive and luck with injuries (lack of) for us to fast track and take advantage of.
We shall see.
Catch you all tomorrow.