Signing your scholarship, particularly at a leading club, is one of the key moments in a young player’s career. It signals that you are officially part of the U18 squad for the next two years, that you are now training at the first-team’s training ground and, most importantly, that you are a step closer to achieving your dream of becoming a professional footballer.
At Arsenal, however, a worrying trend has developed recently, with several of the players who have been offered scholarships by the club dithering over whether to accept them. Promising central-midfielder James Blanchfield is set to leave, having recently represented Manchester United’s U18s, striker Olufela Olomola is poised to join West Ham United and midfielder Ovie Ejaria represented Liverpool at youth level over the weekend.
There is very little Arsenal can do to prevent players from leaving in this manner. Until they officially sign their scholarship deals on July 1st, players aged 16 are free to move elsewhere. It is not an entirely new phenomenon, either, with striker Jordan Brown having chosen to join West Ham last Summer despite being offered a scholarship at London Colney. Brown was concerned about the potential lack of game time he would have received at Arsenal, and, so far, has reaped the benefits of his switch across London, with the striker featuring for West Ham’s U21 team, signing his first professional contract and also training with Sam Allardyce’s first-team.
Last Summer, Kyle Ebecilio and Jordan Wynter were amongst those offered extensions of their professional contracts at the club, but both decided to move on. Ebecilio is now thriving in the Eredivisie with FC Twente, whereas, had he remained at Arsenal, it is highly unlikely he would have come close to representing the first-team on a regular basis.
Arsenal have plenty of schoolboys from younger age groups who can step in and replace the likes of Blanchfield, Olomola and Ejaria, but it is slightly concerning that some players who have worked their way through the Hale End system feel that they wouldn’t get the best chance to express themselves during a scholarship at Arsenal.
Arsenal’s scholarship intake for next season is still promising, with England youth internationals Kaylen Hinds and George Dobson joined by those acquired from elsewhere, such as Kristopher Da Graca and Jonatas Centeno. Some players, however, notably Chris Willock, have yet to confirm whether they will still be at the club next season.
It is possible that more schoolboys could choose to depart before the start of July, and one of the first tasks facing the incoming Head of Youth Development Andries Jonker will be to make remaining at Arsenal a more appealing prospect for these young players than moving elsewhere. It promises to be an agonising wait until the start of July.