Andries Jonker, the former head of Arsenal’s Academy, says football’s most promising young talent should avoid English football if they want to deliver on their potential.
Recruited as Liam Brady’s replacement in 2014, the Dutchman spent three years working for Arsene Wenger before taking up the head coach position at Bundesliga side Wolfsburg.
During his time at Hale End and London Colney, Jonker oversaw a revamp of the club’s facilities and regularly encouraged youngsters to gain experience outside of England.
The likes of Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem, Chuba Akpom and Kelechi Nwakali all undertook loan spells in the Low Countries thanks to his contact book. Kaylen Hinds later followed Jonker to Germany in a £2 million move and Chris Willock leapt at a chance to join Benfica.
While the continental adventures of the aforementioned rarely garnered headlines, their willingness to stray from the Premier League bosom was the start of a trend that has led to Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho making waves in Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund colours.
Jonker, frustrated with the way things turned out at Arsenal, maintains it’s a route to the top that more players should explore.
Citing the example of Donyell Malen, who left Arsenal 18 months ago and is now a regular for PSV Eindhoven, Jonker told the Mirror: “When I was at Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger sometimes called up a few youth players for a couple of games in the League Cup.
“But when Arsenal had a league game a couple of days later, those boys were never in the squad. And in the next 50 games, Wenger would not pick them, either.
“So I have serious doubts if young talent are making the right step if they go to England at this moment. I would advise them not to go, but to play 100 games in first-team football on the continent first.
“Take Donyell Malen. At Arsenal, he was a big talent. But he left the club just in time. He realised he was going to end up in what I call no-man’s land.
“Young players in England, who have huge talent, will only go and play in an under-18 team. And, when they are improving, they then only go the under-23 team.
“So Jadon Sancho went from Man City to Borussia Dortmund – and he is a sensation there. Reiss Nelson, of Arsenal, is choosing the same route. He is getting plenty of chances and minutes at Hoffenheim.”
Jonker does raise a valid point. Mind you, it’s not a new one and the problem does not exist solely at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger, despite his reputation for giving youth a chance, admitted several times in his final couple of seasons that English football has a problem processing the huge pool of talent at its disposal. The issue was also addressed in Michael Calvin’s documentary, ‘No Hunger in Paradise’.
Money is at the heart of the problem. There’s too much of it in youth football these days and inevitably the biggest clubs in England use their wealth to lure the ‘best’ talents from around the globe. Then they do it on a rolling basis and end up hoarding them. When you can only pick 17 players for a first team squad each Saturday, that’s going to cause problems.
In an interview with Spox.com last September, Per Mertesacker, now running our academy, noted that the money on offer to these kids can be life-changing for parents and agents. However, he also pointed out it comes at a price; huge pressure on young minds.
“I want to build relationships to the players, their parents and the coaches and to instil a sense of realism,” said Per. “I am curious if I will achieve this.”
It’s possible that Per may look at things the same way as Andries. On occasion, doing right by a player could mean getting it wrong from an Arsenal perspective. And vice versa. He really does have his work cut out.
Gotta love Per.
Tough words from Jonkers, but the important stuff you’re only going to hear from the other side of the wall.
…or someone could claim that it’s a good business to lure English talents to PSV and resell them back 100 times more. For me it’s unprofessional to split where you used to lick.
Exactly how would the Reiss Nelsons go about getting an opportunity at Hoffenheim without an Arsenal background? I’m all for players at 18yrs old going for loan opportunities outside PL because they need to be playing against adults to progress. However, there is too much at stake in a typical PL match because of all the £, so managers have a difficult time finding minutes for young players. Jonker has a point, but we’ve given debuts to ESR, Joe Willock, Guendouzi, and Saka this year. All have looked promising. It’s about choosing the right opportunity at the right time. What… Read more »
That’s what Monaco tried this season and it failed spectacularly first with Jardim and a rookie coach like Henry was doomed to failure. Henry had to bring old experienced players. Young players do not win without having a majority of older players around them.
Too much of one extreme never works, but you can’t simply say that’s what Monaco tried this year and it failed. I mean they did win the league with youth prospects. They just sold them all again (they’ve made 750M worth of sales in the last few years) and took it to the extreme. And I think Nelson got his opportunity because of his talent, not just because of his Arsenal background. But surely it says something that a lesser-funded team in the Champions League were willing to give him a chance to play compared to us in the Europa?… Read more »
There was talk of Nelson stalling on signing his contract here and that was probably down to lack of playing time. It’s no coincidence he signed his contract with us just before going on loan to Hoffenheim.
You can’t win anything with kids…. ;-D
You end up giving them the candy they want.
yup. we learned that the hard way when we let go of gilberto and vieira when we started Project Youth
Guendouzi was brought from a foreign country… The rest are still on the fringes
Makes me wonder if the focus and purpose of the U23 level needs revisiting altogether- for all top flight English clubs.
I mean, if we should know if we’ve got the makings of a top class player or not when they’re in U18, what then does that mean for the U23?
My suggestion is to make a new league entirely consisting of the top 20 EPL B teams playing for 38 games. Basically a new EPL but for B teams of the country, following the same promotion and demotion system. It breeds alot of competition and competitiveness, to put into context the benefits of that, one only has to see how much talent Real & Barca has unearthed in their B teams the past 10 years.
Real Madrid’s B team plays in a lower division, not a separate league.
They have put forth proposals for B teams and there is little appetite for this from the lower leagues, who would feel further marginalized.
I like the B team league idea alot. Furthermore, I think the Reiss Nelson approach is a good practice in signing a young, promising player to a long term deal, and then loan him out. We’re not going to spend our way into the title race, so we need to improve transitioning top young talent into first team regulars. The loan is one way to do this with certain players. Hopefully it works out for Bielek, Reiss, etc.
B team league is basically the u23 league
We’ve seen how it actually doesn’t work most of the time. Most loan teams seldom give dev time to loan players because they’re not theirs.
Our best bet is 2-year loan times or do what Barca are now doing; sell them with a buy-back clause.
I don’t like the B team idea, it allows big clubs to hoard more youngsters. It’s better for clubs like Southampton to earn big money by selling on the talent they nurture, rather than getting small amounts as compensation when they loose them as 16 yr olds.
ManC, Chelsea, ManU and even us has a big pool of youngsters. They can hook up with lower division or clubs abroad for regular player loans. We have done quite with Charlton. Ofcourse it doesn’t work now with them further down the league now.
It’d be better to have the most renowned clubs, U23’s, playing against all other top teams U23s. The CL teams basically, and of course the odd Europa team so that we can be included. TV rights for this could be good. I’d imagine some interest from fans wanting to watch all the most talented kids throughout Europe. That would be good competition compared to how it is now, there’s not enough competition in total because most clubs further down, need to promote their best youngsters as soon as possible. I’d imagine that more of our young players would be closer… Read more »
What I don’t understand is why the PL2 doesn’t have a better tv right package?
I mean no offence to women’s football, but they managed to get a decent tv rights deal. If they can get it, I don’t understand why the PL2 can’t? Doing so would garner interest, cheaper tickets, more games, greater pressure and generally increase the levels.
The other side of the coin: If you are a big enough talent who has the capacity to work really hard – you will be able to compete with the best players in the world. Of course it means that there will be less british in the starting elevens, but I guess the quality of those will be remarkable: Sterling, Rashford, Alli, Walker, Kane, Stones, Joe Gomez… I wonder if they would be able to build the 4th best national team in the world if they wouldn’ t have to compete with the likes of Aguero, D. Silva, Sané, Alexis… Read more »
Hard to argue when we are trying to buy Perisic when we have Reiss, ESR, and Saka on the books. Willock and AMN have looked pretty good at wide forward too.
(not to mention that we need some defenders and we already score lots of goals.)
I wonder what the likes of Willock and Saka feel they need to do to get some minutes. U23s is clearly not enough for them, but they’re not getting sufficient integration. I really don’t feel the league cup games are enough.
They should go out on loan and tear up a league, thats how its done. When they have consistent high end numbers like Lacazette did in the french league for 3 seasons then you are worth it. Go out on loan and do the business. I think the club needs to find BIG relationships with clubs that will guarantee game time, with the view of a % of sale in the future if they become worth more than X amount. Would give loan clubs an incentive to play them?
Fingers crossed this current generation bucks the trend in the next few seasons. I know they can’t all make it, but we do seem to have a really talented group on our books.
A good argument yet somewhat flawed. You wouldn’t get minutes at Bayern, Barca, Juve, Madrid, etc either. It’s also a big team / small(er) team thing, not merely an England / continent thing.
It’s also easy to point out “sensations” like Sancho – it’s not like there are 20 Sanchos out there today. There are young players that get lost in European football too, drop divisions, etc.
Still, a good read, and food for thoughts! Thanks!
Erm, Barca have given more minutes to academy prospects then we have this season.
And Bayern are busy trying to buy Odoi from Chelsea, where he’s barely getting any minutes and his club are too busy chasing a 32 year old striker, after stealing Gnabry from under out nose.
And the point of Sancho is that he didn’t get any chances at City even though he was clearly ready, and has proven as such at Dortmund.
Barca won almost every trophy going with mostly home grown La Massia players and a few times they fielded an entire starting XI with players from their own academy.
Granted, such a vast pool of talent getting together at exactly the same time and in the same team may never happen again but that doesn’t meant youngsters can’t break into big teams if they have talent and enough grit to push through and not get dazzled by quick riches.
It takes time, effort and patience, by all parties involved, players, coaches and fans.
It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Marcus Mcguane, who Barca nabbed from our academy. It felt like a revenge signing on their behalf, but I would assume he must be a decent prospect… Anyone heard on his progress?
Played 8 games for Barcelona B this season. Has been in and out of the team, missed a while with a hamstring injury
Chelsea were sending youth players abroad long before Jonker arrived at arsenal. We definitely didn’t start the trend. Just saying.
Not sure he suggested we did…
I always thought that since there are only three substitutions in a game of football, and there are seven subs on the bench. Why not make it a tradition to have one academy player on the bench in every matchday squad. If we are winning by a handsome margin, we can give that player some minutes. Instead of having players that never play.
Elneny for example. Emery doesn’t want to use the guy, so put Willock on the bench in his place.
Granted we haven’t had the luxury of winning by margins for a while or on a regular basis but you’ll find a number of examples where U23 players have featured as subs in league games but will not get picked… and if they are, it’s when we have 5 mins to play (as an aside, I wonder why even bother putting them on at that point). Perhaps it’s Emery getting used to his team but he will, like AW, invariably go for tried and trusted over youth (and even then, particular tried and trusted players).
Or maybe have 1-2 extra subs unto a game so long as they’re academy prospects under 20.
Yeah. I really like those competitions where the bench isn’t limited, but includes the entire squad. Then if you’re comfortable at any point, you can bring on youngsters, but you don’t need to compromise the strength of your bench before the start of the game.
How did Hinds turn out by following Jonker to Wolfsburg?
Oh hes a Free Agent. That went well.
Ah Malen, the last of the academy prospects that left along with my interest. I was 100% certain he would make it, and so dismayed that we let him go. Though I don’t blame him, it frustrated me to no ends. And Jonker didn’t even mention Gnabry; not good enough for Stoke’s reserves on loan apparently, but good enough for Bayern. Ultimately it’s us fans fault. You can even see it on this very site, when an injury occurs, the first response by fans is to “buy” rather than even consider giving youth prospects a chance. It’s why I’m dismayed… Read more »
Gnabry left out of his own accord. Not that it matters anyway. It’s a difficult balancing act, youngters don’t play because they haven’t got experience yet they can’t get experience if they dont play. Easy to say Emery should give a chance to such and such player, when is not your neck on the line, even more so when we have proven, time and time again, to be very unforgiving fans. Look at the criticism someone like Guendouzi gets, he’s only 19 and in his first season at a new club, league and country. Same thing goes for Emery, already… Read more »
Guendouzi doesn’t get that much abuse, does he? In fact, of the current crop, I’m struggling to think who fans have been hard on. The senior players seem to get more abuse from fans than the kids. We can be extremely short-sighted and unforgiving fans but I think we have more patience with the youth players and more of a desire to see them get minutes. I do agree that there is a conundrum with these players re: needing experience to play but needing to play to get experience and that’s down to management. Emery has given ESR a chance… Read more »
Oh I don’t disagree, which is why on a previous post I put the blame not at Emery but squarely at the foot of us fans, because I believe if the club felt the fans would be patient enough to get behind a new project youth (well I don’t think Stan cares either way, and Raul definitely doesn’t seem the project youth type), they would do so. Fans are always demanding purchases rather than the patience of youth. When I said I was dismayed I guess I should’ve explained that I’m dismayed at the club giving into the short-terminism of… Read more »
Raul has pretty much intimated in an interview with Orny that he wants to use more youth players from our academy. Unfortunately we have to get CL football by hook or by crook and that’s why we seem to be linked with older players with more experience I guess.
But that’s kinda my point; “by hook or by crook” is a short-termist through-the-kitchen-sink at it, that puts us in a place whereby if we don’t make it, we’re even more likely to spend many years out of the CL wondering, because we’ve totally damaged our long-term finances with CL-level wages with a Europa-league squad, with the added bonus of losing our youth prospects and then not recruiting well because we are chasing that “hook or crook” CL promised land. Then we lose revenue via sponsorship deals and then can’t even depend on player sales to make up the numbers,… Read more »
And this is where I disagree. We don’t have that much power.
Thank you for saving me the effort of having to articulate what you’ve said more or less.
I’m all for giving youth a chance and would love to see Emery play youngsters rather than put players out of position. I would have loved to see him give Saka a run out against United and perhaps start Mav against them too…but look at how much hate Iwobi and AMN get, even Guen and now Torreira.
Thank you for saving me the effort of having to articulate what you’ve said more or less.
I’m all for giving youth a chance and would love to see Emery play youngsters rather than put players out of position. I would have loved to see him give Saka a run out against United and perhaps start Mav against them too…but look at how much hate Iwobi and AMN get, even Guendouzi and now Torreira.
The fans and expectations are a big part of this. I firmly believe that Wenger would have played more younger talent but for the pressure to win. This was especially evident in the other cup competitions. I cannot sight examples but I believe that years ago more players got legit playing time in real games. It will be very interesting to see Dortmond navigate this as they win more and more. Will they remain committed to youth or will money and winning change expectations. I personally prefer a Dortmond model to a Real/Chelsea/Juve model as a fan. I would rather… Read more »
There’s an easy solution to this – cap salaries of young players and limit the number of youth players per club. How many youngsters do we have in our academy? Limit it to a squad of about 20, and the others will go to a lesser club and be more likely to break through. The top clubs Hoover up all the best talent and then put the breaks on their careers by giving them a shit load of money and not giving them playing time.
….because it’s not like all the lesser clubs have youth players of their own already is it? Oh!
They’re not as good though are they? That’s the whole point, which you’ve missed somehow. The best young players arent good enough for top clubs, but the best young players are all at the top clubs. If they were at the smaller clubs they’d have more chance of getting in the team. It’s a simple idea really.