William Saliba says he was left ‘hurt’ by a lack of game time at Arsenal and admits he’s very surprised to be playing football in France again so soon.
Recruited for £27 million from Saint Etienne in the summer of 2018, the centre-back was given a year in Ligue 1 to garner further experience before being recalled by the Gunners in July.
Arsenal fans assumed that the 19-year-old was being lined up to challenge for a first team spot but after a couple of pre-season appearances, Mikel Arteta, who at the time had eight other centre-backs on the books, told the defender he wasn’t ready.
To rub salt in Saliba’s wounds, Saint Etienne couldn’t get the paperwork completed on a second loan move and, post-transfer deadline day, he wasn’t registered for either the Premier League or Europa League squads. It was, to put it kindly, a total cock-up on Arsenal’s part.
Eager to salvage something from the season, Saliba agreed to join Nice earlier this month and he’s already enjoying regular football.
“Honestly, if you told me a year ago, I honestly would not have believed you,” he told TF1 [translated by Get France Football News] when asked about the prospect of lining up for another French club against Saint Etienne on Sunday.
“I really, really, really didn’t think that I would be transferred for €30m and to think that I would arrive, where people were expecting a lot from me and the fans were excited about me, and you find yourself in the reserves, play zero, zero nothing in the Europa League or the league. I was in the squad once in the League Cup.
“It hurt me, it affected me. I don’t think I left too early. When you feel ready you have to go. I don’t think I left too early. These things happen. I believe in myself.”
Quite how much damage we’ve done to our relationship with Saliba remains to be seen. At least he’s enjoying himself on the pitch again.
“For me the best choice, the best decision was to join OGC Nice because there is a good project, a good team, a good level of ambition, who like to play in a certain way,” he said.
“It feels good to play and to have consistent game time, I am young, I am 19, and it is by playing matches like this that you improve. You see what mistakes you make and you correct them.”
He added: “I don’t know [about the future]. I have learned now that it is better not to look too far in the future. So I am focused on just these 6 months to try to give absolutely everything and for the rest, we will see.”