A few eyebrows were raised when Marcelo Flores, like several other youngsters, was left out of Arsenal’s squad for the tour of the US.
After all, under Arsene Wenger, it was a custom for pre-season training camps to feature academy hopefuls and there was always intrigue when they lined up alongside established stars in a sink or swim moment.
These days, with a bloated first team squad and clubs lining up to borrow the Gunners’ next generation, the pathway to Premier League minutes isn’t such a snakes and ladders affair. Instead, it’s a gradual process, painstakingly managed at every step.
Before Mikel Arteta and the first team had landed back in London, 18-year-old Flores, a regular with the under-23s last season, had negotiated a loan move with Real Oviedo in Spain’s second division.
He was the seventh of eight players from the Academy to be loaned out so far this summer and the second, after Omar Rekik, to move as a fully-fledged international. Flores was capped by Mexico earlier in the year, possibly with one eye on warding off interest from Canada for whom he was also eligible to play.
While the chance to play in Spain’s second tier is welcome, there’s no resentment from the Flores camp that he’s not yet challenging for a first team berth at Emirates Stadium.
Speaking to Fox Sports Radio in Mexico, the player’s father, Ruben, explained: “This step we are taking is because we believe that he is ready to play at another level, in a different category.
“It’s not just me saying it, it’s the confidence that Grupo Pachuca [Oviedo’s owners] and Oviedo give us, and the good communication we have with Arsenal, who had considered him to go to pre-season, but things changed with this opportunity.
“It’s not that he [Marcelo] feels comfortable in one situation or another. You have to be objective and know things in depth, what the processes are like, what the sports and football cultures are like, what the players do and at what ages, at what level. In the under-23s there are many professionals, there are professionals who play it, there are games that already mean something.
He added: “These are football stages that every player has, who has the opportunity to grow and can become a professional footballer. We have followed all these stages in the best possible way and today fate brings us to Oviedo with that opportunity. Today we are here, happy and very excited about the people who have given us the opportunity to be here.
“We are grateful to everyone at Arsenal: Edu Gaspar, Per Mertesacker, the loan department. Jesús Martínez [Oviedo president] and the entire Pachuca Group.”
For his part, Marcelo seems equally excited by the chance to strut his stuff for Real Oviedo and realistic about his timeline to the big time.
“The jump is big from one [type of] football to another, but my goals are ambitious,” he told Diario De Mexico.
“I want to show that I can play well, and I’m ready for whatever comes: I’m going to work hard for the team and for myself, to show what I can do in the football.
He added: “The jump to this league is big, this is professional football and there are many teams – and very good ones – that have been in La Liga, like Oviedo. The level is even and my goal is to work hard now. I’m ready to play, although that doesn’t just depend on me.”
Marcelo’s football journey has certainly been unusual. Born in Canada, he was randomly scouted at 13 in the Cayman Islands by Ipswich Town while his dad held a role in the country coaching the women’s national team. After impressing on trial in Suffolk, the Tractor Boys not only recruited him but also his two sisters.
All three subsequently joined the Arsenal Academy when Marcelo was signed on a free transfer in 2019. He’s the only one who remains a Gunner. Elder sister Silvana, via stints at Chelsea, Reading, Sp*rs and Ipswich (again), is now with Mexican side Monterray. The younger sister, Tatiana, remains at Stamford Bridge.