Harlow Town, VCD Athletic, Wealdstone FC, Weston-super-Mare AFC. These are some of the teams that former Arsenal youngsters, who put pen to paper on their scholarship deals at London Colney five years ago, are currently playing for.
It should serve as a reminder, if needed, to the current crop that earning a scholarship deal at a major club is by no means a guarantor of success in terms of establishing a professional career. Last week a new set of scholars embarked upon their journey as they started training full-time, but they should be aware that it requires much hard work and dedication just to make the grade at a professional club, let alone one as established as Arsenal.
There are some promising talents in this year’s scholarship intake. Central-midfielder Marcus Tabi (pictured), for example, impressed for Arsenal at U18 level last season and went on to feature for the Republic of Ireland at the U17 European Championships in May. Winger Nathan Tella fended off competition from Brooklyn Beckham to earn a scholarship deal, whilst the new signings- Kostas Pileas, Vlad Dragomir, Yassin Fortune and Jordi Osei-Tutu- will all be looking to hit the ground running in their first season in North London.
The rest of the intake is made up of Hale End products in defender Tolaji Bola, midfielder Charlie Gilmour, wingers Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah and striker Josh Da Silva.
It can be rather alarming at times to look through the subsequent careers of former Arsenal scholars. There have been some notable success stories, such as Jack Wilshere, Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas, Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny and Hector Bellerin, but others have been without a club for a prolonged period and some have dropped out of the game altogether.
The standard is remarkably high. Some players who sign scholarship deals don’t even get close to the U21 set-up, whilst, even if they do, it is incredibly difficult for youngsters to convince senior managers that they are worthy of a place in the 25-man Premier League squad once they hit the age of 21.
It is important, then, to measure expectations accordingly. With some players, such as Bellerin for example, it is clear from the offset that they have the potential and the ability to succeed. In other cases players can develop at a slightly slower rate but still carve out a relatively successful career.
If a player struggles to make much of an impact during the first year of his scholarship, however, then the writing can be on the wall for their future career. Failure to earn a professional deal at the conclusion of their scholarship can be especially disheartening and can lead to players falling out of love with the game.
When the standard is so high, though, such ruthlessness is needed when making decisions about who to keep on and the new intake of scholars should be aware of just how quickly things can change regarding their footballing careers.
One season you could be training occasionally with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez and a couple of years later you may find yourself playing non-league football in front of a small crowd. Such is the nature of youth development.