When the recent unconfirmed news that Oguzhan Ozyakup had signed for Besiktas broke this week it had me thinking of the many young players that have left arsenal over the years. Arsenal is a club famed for its development of young professionals and it’s rare to find a player who started at Arsenal who did not credit the academy for giving them a great grounding.
The thing about having a great youth set up is it is meant to transpire and develop into an integration of promising youngsters into the first team squad and carry on the traditions and foundations created.Barcelona despite their superstars still manages to successfully integrate youth players into their set up.
Given the way it has worked out at arsenal you could argue that is a flawed strategy as many players have worked their way through the ranks only to become frustrated at not becoming a first team player instantly. Wenger would champion them and talk up their unlimited potential but then their heads would be turned by the first chance of 1st team football elsewhere.
Don’t get me wrong not every player that has come through the ranks has been the level of a jack Wilshere but many have had the potential to be as good. Some players develop to that next level of superstardom a little later in the process, not everyone can crack the first team at 17/18. That is one of the main problems, some youngsters choose Arsenal because they saw Fabregas getting his debut at 16 and think they will get the same opportunities. Their development can be different and the coaches in charge of the younger players and Wenger himself can spot those that have that something special that warrants fast tracking to the first team as well as those that may need a bit more time.
Footballers’ egos are one of the hardest things to manage; they go from running rings around opponents their age and being praised no end to then being told they’re not ready just yet for the first team which is something many young players just don’t seem to register with anything but negativity. This is the point to knuckle down, work even harder and earn the right to be a part of Arsenal first team squad. Some players are not prepared to just play reserve football and get the odd run out in the Carling cup, they want more sooner.
The opportunity to go on loan becomes available and most take it. I’m a big fan of young players going on loan; they get a chance to experience the real ins and outs of first team football. It can also be a measure of their potential if they excel at the club they go on loan to. I mean if a player goes out on loan (in this instance a striker) to a league 2 club and doesn’t score his fair share of goals there it can give an indication that maybe he may not ready to dislodge Robin Van Persie just yet. It can be a nice reality check as the goal a game ratio they had at u-18 level was just that.. u-18 level, the real world is not as easy unless your name is Messi.
The players that go out on loan and do have successful spells often return to Arsenal and find it hard to shift back into reserve football and out of the limelight. They taste that idolisation and when they return they struggle to accept being out of the picture again.
This is the stage where Arsenal has lost many a player they were not planning to let go of. If you look back names such as David Bentley, Sebatian Larsson and Steve Sidwell come to mind. I know, you see those names and probably think not good enough players but to me I honestly believe if they stayed at Arsenal and carried on their development they would have made it at Arsenal.
Ok, David Bentley turned out to be a complete sewer rat but he did have the ability to make something of his career. The main problem for David Bentley was David Bentley; he believed his own hype and thought he was a superstar before his time. Honestly with the right mindset and people around him he could have been a massive player for club and country instead he’s deemed a pompous joke that wasted a promising career. Larsson and Sidwell have carved out decent premiership careers for themselves and could have done a job at Arsenal without setting the world alight if they showed a bit more patience but the good times at Reading and Birmingham swayed their heads.
When Arsenal chooses to let a player go they often prove it was the right decision as we tend to hold on to the ones that have the superstar quality required for the top. I guess that must be part of our ‘business model’ to create marketable superstars with massive returns if ever sold.
A player that had the potential to follow in Cesc’s footsteps towards Arsenal 1st XI was Fran Merida. He had amazing technical ability and was slowly integrating into the Arsenal squad before deciding he wanted a lot more a lot sooner. As is the risk you take from obtaining a player from abroad Merida seemed to miss Spain and it was inevitable he would go back, it was just how soon it happened that wasn’t expected.
His career has stagnated after a bright start at Atletico Madrid and is probably another reason that proves moving too soon isn’t always so prosperous. His situation when you look at it hasn’t changed much from his time at Arsenal as he has struggled to get into the team and spent half of last season out on loan to Braga. Was it worth it? He might say it was but deep down he knows the truth.
Ozyakup falls into a similar category as Merida in terms of ability and potential, if channelled correctly a very good player could emerge. The move to Besiktas still hasn’t been confirmed and I hope it is a made up story. There is some weight behind it since Ozyakup has recently swapped national representation from Holland to Turkey; so a move to a leading Turkish team wouldn’t seem so crazy. I actually think Ozyakup is in Wenger’s plans and should have a long hard think before jumping ship.
A loan move would be a more logical career move at this stage of his career, we will have to wait and see how this plays out but if Ozyakup does decide to move on then Arsenal will have to take a long hard look at whether their strategy to grooming youth is working. The time, money and effort put into these young players is not a guarantee but a gamble and its interesting to know how much money is lost when these players move before their time.
P.S Thank you to Oguzhan Ozyakup for breaking my spell checker.