Andries Jonker says Arsenal’s reconstruction of their Hale End youth academy infrastructure will help imprint the Gunners identity on future generations of players.
The venue, which plays host to trainees between the age of 9-16, gained Academy status in 1998 and has become integral to the evolution of the club’s football philosophy under Arsene Wenger.
Under Jonker’s stewardship, the revamp of facilities should be completed early next year; drawing a line under a project that began in 2012 under former academy head Liam Brady.
Speaking to Arsenal Player about the ongoing work, the Dutch coach emphasised the importance of giving youngsters the best possible start to their football education.
“You should create the best conditions for the boys to develop themselves,” he told Arsenal Player. “That means good floodlights, good pitches, good changing rooms.
“When I came in it was all fine, but it had been built in the 1930s. With this reconstruction, we’ve made ourselves up to date. We’re living in 2016 and now it looks like 2016. That’s what we had to do.”
Echoing the words of one-time academy graduate David Rocastle, Jonker also touched on why the club educate their young prospects in the club’s unique identity.
“One of the things I found in my career is that it’s quite important to know where you are, who you are and who you’re playing for. That’s an important thing. If you look now, it’s not like we are at Arsenal yet, but in a few weeks you’ll almost be able to say that you’re playing at the Emirates. That’s the feeling you want to give the boys. You want them to know where they are and who they’re playing for.
“There are only a few clubs in Europe who have a real identity. Ajax, Anderlecht, Barcelona and Arsenal – you know what to expect. That’s a passing game with us, space for individual quality and creativity, the intention to play football and score goals, and of course we want to win.”
“We have an identity and over the years we have been working on that identity. That’s not just me, it’s Liam Brady and his people. We’ve been working for a long time on that identity and that means that everybody knows what’s to be expected.”
The Hale End project includes the installation of three new pitches – including state of the art 4G ‘grass’ – changing rooms, education areas, landscaping and car parking and comes after new gym facilities and offices were constructed in 2015. It’s a big project being undertaken with a view to long-term success.
“This is not something you do for half a year and then you move [on],” continued Jonker.
“It’s not something that you do for two years, then you lose too many games and you move away. This is something you have to build and everybody who knows something about youth football knows it’s a long-term thing.”
Work at Hale End is being undertaken in tandem with a major facelift for the first team’s training complex at London Colney.