Per Mertesacker says it’s a ‘great honour’ for him to get the chance to work at Arsenal, despite the fact he was originally planning to return to Germany.

Bukayo Saka Professional Terms
Bukayo Saka signs a contract for Arsenal with Academy Manager Per Mertesacker. Arsenal Training Ground. London Colney, Herts, 11/9/18. Credit: Arsenal Football Club / David Price.

Mertesacker took over as Arsenal’s Academy Manager at the end of last season, after deciding to retire from his professional career as a player for the Gunners.

In this case, ‘manager’ doesn’t mean head coach, as Freddie Ljungberg and Ken Gillard are in charge of coaching the u23s and the u18s respectively. Instead, Mertesacker takes a broader overview of how things are working in the academy at all levels, and how they could be improved.

The German defender spoke to Sport1 about the job this week, and why he decided to take it.

“I did not get involved in anything else and decided to do this job a year before the end of my playing career,” Mertesacker said. “The real plan was to return to Germany, but my family feels very comfortable here and wanted to stay. For me, this is a good opportunity to gain practical experience abroad, which I would like to use at some point in Germany.

“I have great respect for an official position in Germany. To do that you need training and experience. Arsenal gives me the opportunity. That is a great honour.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 06: Per Mertesacker of Arsenal shows appreciation to he fans after the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at Emirates Stadium on May 6, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

It’s been a great season for the academy teams, with the u18s winning the south division and the u23s finishing second in the Premier League 2. More importantly, individual players have been developing excellently.

Now, it’s up to Mertesacker to keep that successful and constructive environment going. He says he doesn’t have any particular role models in his new job, but he’s happy to draw on the knowledge and experience of those above him at the club.

“No (I don’t have any role models),” Mertesacker continued. “But in the club, our CEO Raul Sanllehi has a wealth of experience, he’s my mentor, with whom I work, and often sit with, and from whom I can learn a lot for the future. He’s a role model for me, who will shape me over the next few years.”

Finally, the 34-year-old talked about what needs to be improved to make the academy a real success.

“Only very few people manage to get into and out of the top football field. Many players earn a good wage at 17, but sooner or later they do not get any contracts, and then they fall into nothing. My question is always: Have you got a plan B and an educational level to be able to implement it?

“This is a big challenge, you can also train players off the field and these are steps I want to take, and I want to set a good example. In England and in our academy there is still a lot to do.”