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.