Promoting from within can be extremely difficult when it comes to a first team manager trying to give youngsters from the youth ranks a chance to get game time. When do you take a chance on them — and confirm the hunch that they have what it takes to grow into a player who can make an impact at the very top? Every game is important so Unai Emery has to be careful that he doesn’t blood starlets too soon.
But the fruits of having a harvest of youngsters ready, willing and able in the Gunners academy are all too obvious. And that is why no one was surprised when Arsenal MD Vinai Venkatesham came out recently to suggest that promoting players from the academy is a crucial part of the club’s strategy going forward.
And developing a home-grown star will save a fortune in terms of transfer budgets too — and if they don’t quite make it there may well be a significant sell-on fee involved. So good for the finances all round. This monetary factor is brought into sharp focus this summer with the news that Emery may not have bundles of cash to splash on new players to shape his squad.
Venkatesham’s take on the strategy of trying to promote from within:
“If the money and revenue is the fuel and the football side is the engine, then we need that engine to be operating as efficiently as possible. So, every pound we’re spending has the absolute maximum impact.
“There are lots of initiatives that we have to ensure that the football side of our club is as efficient as possible. For example, the academy. We want to make sure we continue to promote players into our first team, and that they make a real impact.
“It’s important because it’s obvious financially efficient, but we also want players in the first team dressing room who have grown up with the club and who really know what it means to represent Arsenal.”
Of course, it helps that you have an established fans’ favourite and a hugely experienced former player at the helm when it comes to developing the young talent at the Emirates. That man is Per Mertesacker.
And Venkatesham added:
“We think we’re in a good place with the academy. We’ve got a great leader in Per Mertesacker, we feel like we’ve got a good group of youngsters – some of whom have been promoted into the first team squad this season. The 18s and U23s have had great seasons, so the academy is a hugely important part.
“We’ve got to manage that progression from the Academy to first team sensibly. Should a player play a bit longer with the U23s? Should they go straight to the first team? Or should they go out on loan?
“We’ve done quite a lot of that this season with Emi Martinez, Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe, and I think as we look forward we’ll see more of those development opportunities on loan to make sure we’re giving players the playing time in carefully selected clubs that we think can help them on their journey to the first team.”