Mertesacker: hard work is more important than talent

Per Mertesacker is set to take over as Arsenal academy manager when he retires from football at the end of this season and speaking to the Arsenal Magazine, Mertesacker set out a refreshingly hard line philosophy for his young players.

“It’s important that we keep in touch, communicate well. They’ve got huge potential and have high levels of skill, but it’s what you make of it. That’s something I’m going to address in the next couple of years.

I respect them highly but the only ones who will make it are the ones who make the most of their potential. Talent means nothing to me, it’s all about hard work. I put the emphasis in that they’re not told how talented they are too much. Talent is what you make of it.”

Arsene Wenger has spoken about young players reaching their potential in a similar fashion, saying that players have to have talent but also need application to get the most of that talent.

If a young person is selected to play for Arsenal’s academy they almost certainly have loads of talent. But what will make a career for them is how much of that talent they are able to harness and hone through hard work. Honestly, that’s the same no matter what career you choose. You can be extraordinarily good at something but unless you put in the hard work, or you’re a charlatan like Donald Trump, then you’re unlikely to make it too far.

Arsenal have had a number of potentially great players come through the ranks only to see their careers slip through the fingers of their wasted youth. David Bentley is probably the poster child for wasted talent. He was launched into Arsenal fame at a young age but quickly spent more time gambling than practicing football: “I’d wake up in the morning and the first thing I thought of was to have a bet instead of thinking about football.”

Mertesacker will have a number of talented young payers under his watch. Zelalem was touted as the next big thing a few years ago but is recovering from a ruptured ACL at the moment. Reiss Nelson and Jon Toral are two of the current crop of talented young players to come through the academy along with Joseph Willock.

With Arsenal unlikely to spend £150m on 19 year old forwards like Kyllian MBappe, the Arsenal Academy is the best chance Gooners have to sign exciting young players. But it’s going to take hard work: from the players and their new manager, Per Mertesacker.



  1. I don’t know Per Mertesacker personally, but he comes across as one of the good guys. I have my fingers crossed that between he and Jens some of the German work ethic can be infused into the youth program as well as stripping the sense of entitlement that seems to have infected a lot of the youth players of recent years.

    If we have any hope of long term success at Arsenal, given the evolving landscape of football, we have to start producing at least one quality first team player per year from the academy.

    1. I think one quality first team player per year is a realistic target. If we manage half of that (1 every two years), I would consider it successful.

      1. My hope would be that, for any given game, half of your starters on the field are academy products. If the career of a footballer is 12-13 years average, I think having half of your first team being academy products is a very achievable goal. The amount of money this would save us in the transfer market would be enormous, in addition to the “home-team discount” an academy player would give us on salary.

        Again, the current transfer fee/salary madness is a supply and demand market economics problem; an undersupply of top level talent and too much money. So create your own supply pipeline, increase the supply.

  2. One common story is that the very best players often work harder and stay back after training to practice more.

    I often wonder why clubs do not just arrange for longer training for all players. Those that do not want to do the extra work probably won’t make it anyway. Those that stay get extra training.

    Is this just too obvious?

    Agree with jack above, there does seem to be more entitlement in current players but wonder if that is the case everywhere given social media, agents etc.

  3. Can Toral be considered a youth player anymore? He is 22 and has just been loaned out to Hull. Feels like his time at Arsenal is coming to an end.

    Per comes across like an intelligent guy and I think he will do well with the kids.

  4. That’s just something people like hearing because it makes them feel good about the one saying it.

    Does anyone doubt Jenkinson’s work ethics?

    On the other hand George Best was a slacker off the field.
    Here’s some of my favorite quotes by him:
    “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars.
    The rest of it, I just squandered.”

    “In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol.
    It was the worst 20 minutes of my life”

    Or this one

    “I used to go missing a lot…Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World”

    Of course you could say talents like him come only once every so often and if he worked harder, he could’ve been even better, but without above average level of talent , no amount of hard work will make a player special.

    1. You realize 1969 was almost 50 years ago yes? The days of making it at the top level based on talent alone is long gone. For every George Best, you will find more Robinhos these days.

    2. Maybe 50 years ago, super talented athletes didn’t have to train as hard and got away with vices that you couldn’t today. Tour de France winners of that era smoked. Most NBA centers were not as big, powerful, or quick as LeBron James and certainly lacked his leaping ability. Approaching the two hour barrier in the marathon wasn’t just going to the moon, it was going to Mars. The pool of athletes has increased as the fame and fortune of success has exploded. And the science of sporting medicine, from nutrition, better understanding of the human body to various training methods, and even PED’s has expanded tremendously as the rewards of athletic success have skyrocketed. I doubt even a generational talent like Best would’ve gone beyond academy status without the commensurate hard work and abandonment of the vices which made him such scoundrel.

      1. 50 years ago, 30 or 20 , it doesn’t matter.
        Hagi and Maradona didn’t have the best work ethics either and that didn’t stop them from becoming the players they did.

        1. So, you just say it doesn’t matter and that’s that? There ‘s no way George Best or Maradonna make it today looking the way they did then. The athleticism and demands today are so muhc higher today than 20 years ago.

          1. No, it’s not what I’m saying.
            Read my original post.
            Maradona not making it today is probably the most outlandish statement you could make on the topic.
            The man literally bounced off defenders trying to break his legs while he was running past them.

          2. Strength is not the same as stamina e.g. The game was much slower and defenses dropped very deep. The game was much different back then than it’s now. He would have to move a lot more and for that he would need a much bigger engine.

    3. If I knew I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself.

    4. That was a different time. Players back then all used to drink, smoke, and whore around.

      These are professional athletes now. I don’t know anything about Jenko’s work ethic but I don’t think he’s talented. I know things about Balotelli’s work ethic and I know that he’s talented. Balotelli wasted his talent. Ronaldo is both talented and hard working.

  5. Off topic and I don’t mean to high jack the thread…but has anyone seen the BBC article regarding the 7 PL players that have 8 shots or more this season? Two iof our very own are on the list; Ox and Ramsey. Not sure why I’m surprised but I am. I’d say it’s indicative of the game mgmt/coaching. A bit frustrating to say the least.

  6. I was hoping that we would complete a few targeted additions to the academy squads once Per was announced. Maybe he wants to look at what he has first but would be happy if we embarked on a bit of a youth team project to try and improve the production line to the first team.

    In the absence of any further improvements to the current squad and our short termism with expiring contracts that would at least provide some evidence if strategic thinking.

  7. here’s a man who is not the most exceptionally gifted but who has still managed to find success by being smart and working hard. he’s probably speaking from experience when he says this with such a strong conviction. he’s probably seen players that were more talented than him that never made it as professionals, let alone won a world cup like he did because they didn’t work hard.

Comments are closed.

Related articles