Per Mertesacker says he’s still getting a feel for his role as head of Arsenal’s academy but is enjoying the challenge and variety that comes with life at London Colney and Hale End.
Having had his appointment confirmed in July 2017, a year before taking over the reins, the World Cup winner was able to juggle the final year of his playing career with getting to know the specific demands of his new position.
Handed the responsibility by Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis, the German probably expected to be working with both men closely in his first year. Instead, he’s had to forge his own path within a reshaped hierarchy that has seen a lot of new faces come to the fore in the dugout and the boardroom. All the same, he seems to be thriving.
“I do almost everything you can imagine, so I’m obviously involved with the coaches, involved with the players and with their surrounding team with agents, parents and all the stakeholders,” Mertesacker told Arsenal Player.
“I choose by myself at the moment what I’m going to do and where I’m going to put emphasis on, so in a managing role, especially in the academy, you go into stuff and then you zoom in and then zoom out.
“You’re not working with a team on a daily basis, you have more responsibilities, and I’m trying to figure out as well how my week looks. At the moment I’m doing it all, but I’m trying to get the best out of me and that is the relationship with people, the relationship with players, where I can support with my experience and where I can support with me as a person.
“There’s lots I can do and I feel that. At the moment what is really important is that kids, players and parents recognise me and they think, ‘Yeah, he’s done a great job playing 15 years professional’ and that gives you some respect, but obviously I want to stick to that and help them and support them.
“But as well you want to live the values of the club and you want to bring some content to the club, so this kind of measurement as a player where you’ve done really well and maybe kept for one or two seasons, I want to do really well and keep improving as an academy manager and that’s my first focus.”
In his final year as a player, Mertesacker spoke openly about the mental health issues he battled throughout his career and the sacrifices he had to make to get to the top of the game.
He maintains that the club has a responsibility to pass on its values to everyone within its ranks and to prepare young players as best as they can for their futures, whether they make it as professionals or not. Surrounded by hundreds of young prospects, he knows that success stories, like that of Emile Smith Rowe, who has scored three goals in six appearances this season, are rare.
“We have a good standard [of player here], and we need to prepare them for these moments, for these opportunities,” he added.
“So when they train with the first team, they make an impression. When they go on loan, they make an impression.
“It all comes back to the way we’ve treated them when preparing them for these moments. We need to have them resilient and ready for those moments. There will be players who won’t be able to have those moments, and will be released. Some will suffer injuries, some will go to other clubs.
“We are responsible for them all. We cannot give it all to Emile Smith Rowe. We need to make sure and have the responsibility that all the others who go through the academy system are well prepared for their future, whatever happens on the path they take.
“But we’re doing great and those who are catching the attention right now are doing well because they were well prepared. Let’s not forget that. There are others as well who we need to treat with the same amount of intensity and attention.”