Renny Smith is in a reflective mood. The midfielder has just completed his first full season as an Arsenal player and has much to be proud of, having established himself as a regular in the U18 side whilst also making his debut as a substitute for the U21s. Perhaps his biggest achievement, however, came on the international front when he was recently called up by Austria at U18 level.
Smith started and gave a good account of himself as Austria beat Denmark in an U18 friendly last month, and Austrian youth coach Hermann Stadler has been impressed by the youngster’s development, with the 17 year old set to keep his place in the squad for the friendly against Hungary in a fortnight’s time, whilst also possibly featuring in the U19 European Qualification campaign beyond that.
Smith, who was born in Epsom, is eligible to play for Austria through his maternal grandfather. He explains how the call-up came about. “Austria were aware of my dual nationality and they asked Arsenal for permission to send a scout over to watch me play in an U18 game. As a result, they selected me for their next game against Denmark in which we won 2-1.”
Smith, who joined Arsenal from Chelsea towards the end of last season following a successful trial, says that he would be happy to commit his international future to Austria. “I would love to play for Austria at senior level. They have a great setup and I am enjoying playing with them. Austria like to get the ball on the floor, play out from the back and generally like to have the majority of the possession, so it is similar to the way Arsenal play.”
Smith is evidently ambitious and, in addition to his international commitments, he has much work to attend to at Arsenal, with next season being pivotal for his development as he attempts to extend his stay at the club. “I think overall, both technically and defensively I have played very well. Tactically I am still learning however and I think that I can show more offensively in terms of scoring and assisting goals.
“This season I have scored only three goals, next season I aim to score at least 10-15. I aim to play in and win the FA Youth Cup and feature in the U19/U21 teams more regularly. Good performances will hopefully be rewarded with a pro contract next season, so naturally my focus is on good performances.”
Smith has conversed with some members of the first-team squad, with one player proving particularly helpful. “I have spoken to a few of the first team players but mainly Thomas [Vermaelen]. He’s a great captain and leader and for me one of the best centre backs in the world. I have no doubt he’ll be one of the star players in a young Belgian team this Summer.”
I aim to play in and win the FA Youth Cup and feature in the U19/U21 teams more regularly
It has been well documented that Arsenal’s U18 side have struggled for form throughout 2013/14, with Carl Laraman’s team winning just eight of their 31 league matches. Smith admits that improvements need to be made, but he is already targeting silverware next season. “Results at times have been tough on our team this year and being on the wrong side of a few decisions never helps but this is football. Some of our performances have not reflected the scoreline and this is something we must learn from as a team – how to win. Looking forward to next season, I truly believe that if we improve in both boxes and play more penetratively, we can win the U18 league and FA Youth Cup respectively.”
Smith has been deployed in numerous defensive and midfield positions throughout his short career, but the tough tackling youngster stresses that he is most at home as a box-to-box midfielder. Although he is adept at breaking up play, he also has the ability to weave his way out of difficult situations and has played some impressive passes this season. With Jack Jebb stepping up to the U21 side on a permanent basis, Smith may well get a chance to impress in the Youth Cup, whilst he will also be seeking to add to the solitary appearance he made for the second-string away to Fulham last September.
Smith notes that Arsenal and his former club Chelsea adopt similar styles at youth level. “Arsenal and Chelsea have fantastic training facilities and both try to play a similar style at U18 level. I guess it’s a style which is developed and learned through the training methods, as both focus heavily on mannequin drills and possession based games. Arsenal first-team staff regularly come to watch our training and matches which I think is great.”
Smith turned down approaches from Manchester City and Liverpool to join Arsenal but has certainly benefitted from the decision by receiving regular game time for Arsenal at U18 level in addition to his international call-up. Whether other English youngsters at top clubs will follow suit in electing to play for different countries at youth level remains to be seen, but Smith is certainly pleased with the way that things are going for him so far.