Former Arsenal academy director Andries Jonker has advised young players to stay away from Arsenal and English football, suggesting it’s better to play abroad.
Speaking to the Mirror over the weekend, Jonker argued that players aren’t getting proper opportunities to progress at Arsenal.
“When I was at Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger sometimes called up a few youth players for a couple of games in the League Cup,” Jonker began. “But when Arsenal had a league game a couple of days later, those boys were never in the squad. And in the next 50 games, Wenger would not pick them, either.
“So I have serious doubts if young talent are making the right step if they go to England at this moment. I would advise them not to go, but to play 100 games in first-team football on the continent first.”
“Take Donyell Malen. At Arsenal, he was a big talent. But he left the club just in time. He realised he was going to end up in what I call no-man’s land.
“Young players in England, who have huge talent, will only go and play in an Under-18 team. And, when they are improving, they then only go the Under-23 team. So Jadon Sancho went from Man City to Borussia Dortmund – and he is a sensation there. Reiss Nelson, of Arsenal, is choosing the same route. He is getting plenty of chances and minutes at Hoffenheim.”
The problem with Jonker’s argument is the club really didn’t produce many top talents while he was working with the academy. He gives the example of Malen, who certainly looked like one of the best, but the forward is now 20 and still only has four starts in all competitions for PSV this season.
If Malen can’t start regularly in the Eredivisie, why would anyone expect him to start matches in the Premier League? He’s doing well in his appearances off the bench, but that doesn’t change the fact PSV are easing him in almost as slowly as Arsenal would have.
Since Jonker left, the academy has been thriving. The likes of Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah have started to step up to the first-team action, along with Zech Medley, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka more recently. Players of their quality weren’t as regularly available during Jonker’s tenure.
Then there’s Matteo Guendouzi, who came from France as a teenager to become a regular starter for Arsenal.
As the former academy director points out, Nelson has had good opportunities in Germany, but he didn’t need to leave Arsenal permanently to get them.
Also, the English youngster’s chances have been more limited recently, as can often happen with players making the transition to senior football. It’s not just an Arsenal problem, every club needs to ease their young players in slowly, pulling them out for a break at times.
Arsenal remain one of the best clubs in the Premier League at giving young players chances, and hopefully, that will continue despite Jonker’s comments.