Arsenal have a fine tradition of bringing young players through their academy.
Even in today’s climate, youngsters such as Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah seem to have big futures, thanks to the diligent and attentive work put in at youth level. That has been the case ever since Arsene Wenger got his hands on the club and, back in 2009, one player looked set for a big future.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas had a bit of everything a manager wants. He had raw power, plenty of pace and lovely close control, as well as a burly 6’3″ physique. He captained the u18 side at the age of 16 and, after a few pre-season appearances, began scoring regularly for the reserves, including a hat trick against West Ham United.
After making his debut in 2010 in an FA Cup defeat against Stoke, he spent time on loan with Doncaster and Blackpool, before returning to the Emirates. He bagged nine goals in 10 for the reserves and got a first-team chance against Arsenal, prompting Wenger to proclaim; “When his fitness is right, Jay will be not only a good player but a great player”. He had the world at his feet.
So, where is Emmanuel-Thomas now? What happened to the phenomenal talent that seemed destined to reach the top with the Gunners?
The forward opted to join Ipswich Town for an undisclosed fee in search of regular football and so began his steady decline. Two tough seasons at Portman Road brought just nine goals in 76 outings and the confidence, which oozed from him in Arsenal’s reserves, was gone. He soon swapped Suffolk for Bristol, moving to Ashton Gate in a player swap.
His first season with Bristol City was a success, although he had dropped into League One. 21 goals in 52 outings prompted hope he was on the up and even a modest return of 12 in 48 the following season attracted the interest of Queens Park Rangers. He moved back to London and finally his potential drained away. He played just 12 times in the league for the Hoops in three years, scoring three times, but left Loftus Road in 2018 a broken player and a shadow of his former self.
Emmanuel-Thomas almost left the professional game, coming close to joining non-league side Billericay in what would have been a spectacular fall from grace, but instead, his career took an interesting twist; he chose to move to Thailand, sealing a deal with PTT Rayong. It might seem like a move to a footballing backwater, but professional football is thriving in Thailand. An article by The Culture Trip explains that games there regularly attract 12,000 capacity crowds and there is a bustling fan culture, which makes Emmanuel-Thomas’ move there attractive.
Furthermore, the game is hugely popular despite the strict gambling laws in the country. Expatbets reveal that they prohibit any form of gambling except for the National Lottery and horse racing, but that online sports betting is big business, which feeds into their vibrant fan culture. Thailand is rapidly becoming a football hotbed, with hopes of a World Cup appearance soon, and Emmanuel-Thomas is a key part of one of the top sides.
He currently has one goal from 12 outings and is one of only two foreign players at PTT, the other being South Korean Jung Hoon. At just 29-years-old, Emmanuel-Thomas offers a cautionary tale for the youngsters of today, but he also might have one last swansong in him, if he keeps getting regular football for PTT.