Arsenal’s Academy Manager Andries Jonker admitted Arsene Wenger took him by surprise with his fastracking of homegrown youth product Alex Iwobi.
Jonker told Arsenal Magazine: “When I came in, I remember he was about to go on loan after having a knee injury and he was not that fit and unable to play 90 minutes. Surprisingly Arsène put him on a training pitch and he did quite well. Then his development started and he became some sort of a rising star. He played better and better in the under-21s, played quite well in the under-19s and scored two brilliant goals against Bayern Munich, and then he deserved his chance.
“He was named on the bench, then Arsène gave him his chance and he was stable. He didn’t panic, he didn’t have any wrong expectations. He stayed in his shoes. He kept working hard and he grabbed his chance. We respect him a lot and I’m very pleased with his performances last season.”
Jonker believes Iwobi’s long Arsenal education and grounding allowed him respond calmly when opportunity came his way earlier than many people expected.
“The good thing is that Alex came here to Hale End as an under-9, so he couldn’t have been here any earlier. He spent many, many hours in the training dome working hard with all those coaches. What makes him different from many other boys is that, when you analyse him, he’s good at all aspects. It’s not just him being a good player, he’s also a stable guy who’s working hard every day because he’s not getting distracted by having a lot of success.
From the highs of a Champions League appearance at the Nou Camp, Iwobi will have to knuckle down and fight for his place all over again this season, a task which will be made more difficult if Arsenal, as expected, recruit one or more attacking players.
But Jonker emphasises that an ability to deal with the ups and downs of professional life is drilled into every young player at the club.
“The main thing is that we’re trying to be realistic. His mentality is one of working hard. That’s what most of those boys bring for themselves. They have this wish, this dream to become a professional player. It’s a natural thing most of them bring. To handle success and handle disappointment is not something we can teach. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not good, it’s not good. Alex is one of the examples who got the message quite well.
And Jonker now sees Iwobi as a perfect role model for other academy prospects.
“He’s a personification of a player with Arsenal DNA. I don’t want to give him too many compliments because he’s played maybe 10 games. We should speak about him like this after 100 games. But the player he is, the man he is, that’s what we want to be. That’s what we want to achieve with all those young players. He’s the example for all of them.
“There are a couple of values at the club that we are using on all kind of levels: be together, act with class and move forward. This guy is mentally strong and is socially strong as part of the team. Act with class: to be complimented for everything. Move forward: he did, also in the moments that he didn’t look like moving forward.”