Friday, March 1, 2024

Miguel Azeez: From bright young thing, to semi-pro

Morning.

So the January transfer window is now closed, and the only action at Arsenal was the departure of a few youth/fringe players. Here’s the round-up.

19 year old midfielder Bradley Ibrahim joined Hertha BSC in the Bundesliga 2 on a permanent deal.

Alex Runarsson was recalled from his loan at Cardiff, had his contract terminated, and will reportedly join FC Copenhagen. Which is a decent move for him, because he didn’t really play that much in the Championship, and Copenhagen are in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Charles Sagoe Jr joined Swansea on loan until the end of the season. He started our EFL Cup tie against Brentford back in September, and said:

I think it’s the right time to go out on loan. I spoke to a few people because I was thinking that this could be the next step in my career and really help me develop my game.

Lino Sousa signed for Aston Villa and was immediately sent on loan to Plymouth Argyle; forward Khayon Edwards joined League One side Leyton Orient on loan, but at 20 and with a contract that expires in the summer, it’s probably more about putting himself in the shop window than playing for his Arsenal future; while centre-half Zane Monlouis is also going down to League One to play for Reading until the end of the season. His contract also expires in June.

The two players out on loan to keep an eye on are Sagoe Jr and Charlie Patino, both at Swansea, but it’d be a big surprise to me if either of them did enough to win a place in the senior squad for next season. There’s so much talk about Arsenal not giving chances to young players, but the reality is there is big gap in talent/quality at that level right now. The names on everyone’s lips, Ethan Nwaneri and Myles Lewis Skelly, are still very young and need experience – perhaps even a loan next season.

Beyond that, at the 19/20 age-bracket, there’s nobody really knocking down the door. Reuell Walters is 19, and perhaps a touch unfortunate that we are so light at the back right now, because a loan would probably have been ideal for him this window, but without Jurrien Timber and Takehiro Tomiyasu, he’s needed for cover.

Perhaps the most striking deal of the January window is the permanent departure of Miguel Azeez to Spanish side Atletico Baleares. It wasn’t long ago that he was being spoken of in the same terms people now use for Nwaneri, Lewis-Skelly etc, and where he has ended up is a salutary lesson in just how difficult it can be to make the transition from youth to senior level.

As he was making his way through the age-groups, there was no doubt Azeez had plenty of talent. I remember very distinctly during some of the darker days under Mikel Arteta, people insisting he should be starting in the first team, and now he has joined a team playing in the Spanish third tier. Between then and now he had chances to impress on loan but never did. He went to Portsmouth in League One in August 2021 (10 appearances), but was recalled in January and sent on loan to UD Ibiza (Spanish 2nd division). There he started a few games at the beginning but fell out of favour.

In January 2023, he joined Wigan on loan in the Championship, but was sent back before the end of the season having played just twice, and been embroiled in some disciplinary issues with the manager and coaching staff. Since then, he’s played just over 90 minutes at youth level for Arsenal, and now finds himself playing semi-pro football in Spain for a team down the bottom of the table, and which could be relegated to the regional divisions.

Who knows exactly why it hasn’t worked out? There are myriad reasons why a promising young player never makes the grade the way people expect, from application and dedication to circumstance and other aspects, but it shows quite clearly that having a big name at underage level is no guarantee of anything. Not to mention that the difficulty of making it from youth level to the highest level of the Premier League shouldn’t be overlooked. The fact that Arsenal currently have four Hale End graduates as regulars (to varying degrees) in the first team squad is, by most standards, a pretty successful hit-rate, and to have someone at the very top level like Bukayo Saka is so very rare.

Hopefully there are more to come in the seasons ahead, but most young players at this club won’t make it here. Even those who are the ones people want to see most. Many won’t make it in the professional game at all, and too often fans desire to see the next wonderkid breakthrough from the Academy – while an understandable and at times romantic idea – simply doesn’t tally with the reality of top level football.

Good luck to all of those who have left, for better things or for the opportunity to change their trajectory. For most players, football as a career is a real slog. The bright lights and the rewards for those at the very highest level are a tiny fraction of what happens below them and all the way down the pyramid. Hopefully the education they got at Arsenal stands them in good stead for their futures.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. As we had an extra Arsecast Extra this week, there’s no Friday pod today, but over on Patreon we have an episode of The 30 for you now, and later on we’ll look ahead to Liverpool in our Premier League preview podcast.

Have a great Friday folks.

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