Reiss Nelson told David Ornstein that Bukayo Saka was the young player to watch all the way back in 2018, heaping praise on the young winger.
With each passing season, the world takes more notice of Bukayo Saka. First, it was his debut senior campaign when he was laying on assists for fun, then his Arsenal Player of the Season award in 2020/21, and now his key role for England at the Euros.
But before all of that, Saka’s Arsenal teammates were obviously already very aware of his talent. David Ornstein says that in an interview three years ago Reiss Nelson was already raving about the youngster.
“I went to interview Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho in Dortmund in 2018,” Ornstein recalled. “And just before we started rolling in the interview, Nelson and I were talking about Arsenal players.
“And I said ‘I heard so much about you coming through because you were friends with Jadon Sancho, and you were peers. You’re the one, right? But there’s also others, there’s Willocks I’ve heard of, Nketiahs…’
“And he just stopped me while I was speaking and said, ‘There’s only one you should watch out for: and it’s Saka.’
“So this was 2018 so Saka was probably about 16 years old, and [Nelson] said ‘That is the one. That boy can do things that you won’t have seen on a football pitch’.”
As someone who follows the Arsenal academy closely, I have to say that view is not entirely surprising.
In 2018, Saka went from starring in the FA Youth Cup to playing a key role in the Dallas Cup to being called up by Freddie Ljungberg and then by Unai Emery. From the u18s, to the u19s, to the u23s, to the senior side, in just eight months.
That just doesn’t happen, at least not often. It takes a special player to rise through the ranks so quickly, and the likes of Nelson would have found it difficult not to notice Saka’s progress. Three years later, he’s still living up to the hype.