Just over two years since he took over as the head of Arsenal’s Academy, Per Mertesacker has labelled the decision to go for the job as the “best decision” he ever made.
Given Andries Jonker and Liam Brady, his predecessors in the role, had considerable coaching experience when they were handed the reins, eyebrows were raised when the Gunners made the decision to offer the German the position while he was still playing for the club.
It turns out the club’s decision to act bold was, in part, driven by a desire to learn from previous mistakes. Having failed to retain the services of Mikel Arteta, who took up a coaching role at Manchester City when he retired, Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis felt they couldn’t risk adding Mertesacker to the brain drain.
Speaking to Arsenal’s ‘In Lockdown’ podcast, the German took up the story: “I always gave the indication that I would be very happy [to stay]. As a family, we are settled and it’s the club I love so I would love to make a contribution.
“I think what made them want to keep me was Mikel Arteta. I think it was the year before that he went to Man City, they were desperate to keep him but they approached him a little bit too late. I think in their minds they thought, ‘We want to keep Per as part of the club.’
“Then two weeks later they came up with the idea of making me the academy manager and it just took me one conversation with my wife to determine that that’s what I wanted to do.”
Given the myriad changes that have taken place around him in the last two years, a short stint as the first team’s assistant coach and the ongoing challenge of Covid-19, it’s fair to say the role has been a baptism of fire for Mertesacker.
Despite the roller coaster ride, he and his new-look team have overseen a host of changes at the Academy from talent identification and player development to pushing the club to offer an increasingly holistic education alongside football.
Reflecting on how things have gone, he added: “Did I know everything about the role? Did I know everything to expect? Absolutely not. I have to admit it. I thought this is a great club with great people who have been magnificent in nurturing young talent into the first team, so I expected that I would have colleagues in the academy that would be fantastic to me and would welcome me.
“I expected good people to work with. Two years into the role now, did I expect what I was going into? Absolutely not. Am I glad to have made the decision to stay with the club? Absolutely yes. Do I like my job? Do I like to be part of the Arsenal Academy and lead it? Best decision ever!”