Eddie Nketiah was almost once shown the door by Arsenal after dividing opinion among their coaches, it’s been revealed.
The striker returned early from a season’s loan with Leeds to become a leading figure under Mikel Arteta. As such, the Spaniard has earmarked Nketiah as a big part of his plans at Arsenal in the years to come.
He has branded the England U21 striker an “extraordinary” talent and tipped him to be the man to help take his side to the “next level” in the future.
But it could have been a very different story for Nketiah. The striker was released by Chelsea at 14 for being too small and soon found his way across London to Arsenal.
But Nketiah wasn’t quick to convince despite being handed a scholarship deal by Arsenal. In fact, former academy manager Andries Jonker admits he was almost shown the door at 16.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, he said: “Nketiah was a different story, it wasn’t so easy to see.
“He was working hard and in fact there was a discussion in the staff about whether or not to give him a scholarship.
“His mentality was the thing that made us decide to give him a chance as a scholar, but he had to go a long way.
“I always told him, ‘believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no-one will believe in you at Arsenal’.
“Now he has made it from a not so remarkable youth player to a first-team player. That’s not an easy thing to do.
“It’s another example of how the fact that it’s almost impossible to be sure about young players. Are they going to make it or not?
“Eddie proved the opposite, and although many people had big doubt he did it all the way.”
Nketiah has four goals in 14 appearances for the Gunners so far this season.
Jamie Redknapp praises Nketiah
Nketiah also has a big fan in Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp, who reckons the striker deserves his shirt at Arsenal.
He also sees similarities between his situation and Sergio Aguero under Pep Guardiola.
“Work from the front, [the willingness to] chase things down,” Redknapp said. “It took a little while for Aguero to buy into it. I don’t know if Aubameyang at this age will be that striker still. More so if he doesn’t want to be at the club and he wants to go.
“He thinks with Nketiah – he works hard for the team. It’s a midfielder’s dream, it’s a defender’s dream, when someone is just pickpocketing balls around the pitch and winning balls back. It’s fantastic.”