Jay Bothroyd will retire from football with a stash of cash in the bank, a luxurious mansion, one or two flash motors and a ton of memories. He made it. He is one out of all the thousands of budding stars grafting to become a professional.
He is a Premier League striker with QPR. And an England international. He should be proud. And he is. But you can’t help feeling that a few days or weeks or even months after he hangs up his boots, Bothroyd’s pride may be dented a little as he recalls his career. He may harbour one big regret: He blew it at his beloved Arsenal.
You may recall that Islington boy Bothroyd was sold to Coventry City after hurling his shirt at youth coach and Gunners doyen Don Howe and the bench when he was withdrawn in the 2000 Premier League Youth Cup final against West Ham United. It was an impetuous act, one not uncommon for a headstrong teenage starlet with an abundance of talent who just happened to disagree with the decision.
Bothroyd, now 29, learned a hard lesson that day. No doubt he would have been forgiven elsewhere. Who could blame a lesser club than Arsenal for overlooking his rebellious nature and focusing on his talent and potential value, both in goals and money? But this is Arsenal. The Arsenal. And so this product of the famed Arsenal Academy was shipped out to Coventry for £1million having never played a first team game. Aged just 18.
Fast forward to London town 2011 and Bothroyd has a frank admission about sneaking off to watch the Gunners under the cloak of night, when I chat to him at the launch of arcade racing game, Need for Speed: The Run. “Yes, I still get to see Arsenal, they are my team,” he says. “I go with my mates who are all massive Gooners. I was at the Barcelona game last season. I lived five minutes from Highbury and it’s where all my family are from.” (I make a mental note that I find it refreshing that a player who had his dream shattered at a club can still be in love with it. But that’s Arsenal, I suppose.)
“I was so disappointed to leave Arsenal. I made the biggest mistake of my career. You want to play for the team you followed since a boy, but it wasn’t to be and I had to move. It was a huge mistake and, of course, I regret it. I’ve got to say Don Howe and Neil Banfield are the best coaches I’ve worked with and they taught me so much. They are part of the reason I play the way I do. I’m 6’2″ but I’m not a target man as such and I play with my feet and that’s down to the Arsenal way.”
So, I ask, using the “Arsenal way” can we gain a position in the new Holy Grail that is a top four spot in the top flight? Can Arsene Wenger continue to rebuild after such a shattering start to our campaign? “I’d very much like to think so. Arsene Wenger is no doubt one of the best managers in the world for me,” he says. “He is up there with the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. I have nothing but respect for him and owe him so much from my time at Arsenal. I learned a lot.”
Indeed, AW has gone on record to admits he regrets losing Bothroyd so prematurely. He said at the time of Bothroyd’s international call up: “He was one of my regrets because he left our club very early. I have said many times that most importantly the guy has a good career, even if he goes somewhere else it’s better than to play in our reserves. He went down and came up again, credit to him. We are all happy and proud of him at Arsenal.”
Back to Bothroyd, who says attaining a Champions League place is the target for Arsenal but also of huge importance is retaining the services of a certain Dutchman. “Van Persie is on fire and he is genuinely world class. His technical ability is amazing and the club must do all they can to keep him. It is so important to keep him but a player like him needs to know what direction the club is going in and that could be the key to a new deal,” he adds.
We chat some more but it’s non-Arsenal. Bothroyd tells me of his friendship with Libya lunatic Muammar Gaddafi’s son Al-Saadi Gaddafi, who he met during his time with Perugia and who paid for his honeymoon. It’s fascinating stuff. As a journeyman player he will be able to dine out on his anecdotes once he quits. He won’t, however, to his regret, be able to tell you about the time he played for the Arsenal first team.
Unless AW knows something we don’t…
*Jay Bothroyd was playing Need for Speed: The Run, OUT NOW on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii and 3DS.