Every season at Arsenal, attention is drawn to the academy and reserve players and their successes. The Carling Cup in particular will provide a platform for fans to assess these young players’ ability to reach the first team, albeit at an early stage of their development. Ahead of watching their efforts to propel themselves to the pinnacle of the game, I have decided to look back at some previous players who have graduated with mixed success:
Ashley Cole: He joined his boyhood club and went on to make the LB spot his own. Controversy surrounded his departure and his quality still divides opinions between Gooners today. He has over 70 England caps and made over 200 appearances for Arsenal winning two Premier League titles and three FA Cups with the club. Cole was essentially the original modern full back in the league, paving the way for Clichy and Evra. Widely regarded as the best LB in the world at one point, Cole still features prominently in that debate. By all measures he is the biggest English success of our youth policy and perhaps that’s why his departure hurt that much more.
Gaël Clichy: Clichy followed Cole through the youth set up and filled his boots so impressively that nobody really missed the Englishman. He became the youngest player to receive a Premier League winner’s medal in 2004 and is a mainstay in our defence today. Clichy may go on to eclipse Cole’s achievements assuming the club can get back to winning ways but for France he is in an unenviable position. Competition for the LB spot comes from Evra and Abidal; a situation that makes for interesting watching.
David Bentley: Bentley was 13yrs old when he joined us and was still a touch immature when he left. He epitomises the talented, much hyped youngster who finds his opportunities limited by the strength of our first team. He seemed to be fulfilling his potential at Blackburn before a transfer to Spurs saw his playing time limited again and put the brakes on his international career. A move away from Arsenal’s rivals now looks likely.
Jermaine Pennant: So much was expected of this 15yr old upon his record 2 million signing that it was almost inevitable that he wouldn’t meet those expectations. A hat-trick on his full league debut at the start of the “Invincible” campaign didn’t help to manage expectations but a poor discipline record saw him fall out of favour at Arsenal. Now 26 and on the fringes of the Liverpool squad, his career is in limbo and despite outrageous links with Real Madrid it remains to be seen whether he will ever find a place that he can call home.
Cesc Fàbregas: As a 16yr old steal from Barcelona, Cesc is one of the most important signings in the history of our academy. Since breaking into the team he has smashed club and country records for fun. Now Arsenal Captain; the real measure of his achievements will be the trophies that he lifts. History beckons for this midfielder but the question of whether he can win the top trophies whilst at Arsenal will act as a gauge for every youth player following in his footsteps.
Fabrice Muamba: As a top performer in England’s U21 team this summer, expectations will be high for this former Arsenal academy member. Muamba left Arsenal after some League Cup appearances for Birmingham before moving to Bolton. He has gained extensive premiership experience in central midfield and looks like a rock on which a team can be built.
There exists quite a mix of graduates who have achieved well at the club and those who could possibly have achieved more, had they shown the right levels of discipline and patience. Contrastingly, players like Muamba are illustrating that there are alternative routes to the top. The young players at our academy will do well to look at these players in attempting to emulate their successes and avoid repeating their mistakes.