It’s not every day a 15-year-old boy gets the opportunity to play in an official Premier League match. In fact, it’s never a day that a boy that age gets to play. Except this last weekend when Arsenal made a substitution late in their 3-0 win over Brentford to bring on Ethan Nwaneri, aged 15 and 181 days. The youngest player to ever play a Premier League game.
It was a sparkling moment. An incredible feat. A record-breaking cameo to reward a kid who has already been praised by Per Mertesacker at the U18-levels. Surely, this wholesome moment would be unanimously agreed as a wonderful occasion in sport, right? Right?!
Wrong. And it shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but forgive me, I’m only human. talkSport have had multiple pundits rail against Mikel Arteta for this moment. State there is no “logic” behind it, “it’s self indulgent” or somehow selfish. Go out of their way to manufacture “what if” scenarios that simply never happened, and frankly, weren’t likely to happen in the closing moments of a 3-0 standout performance.
As a Content Marketer myself, I am generally onboard with the idea that #EverythingIsContent. Not everything is good content, but sure, it can be consumable content. Yet, this seems to be challenging me on that notion severely.
It’s such a waste of conversation. Such a waste of breath and time and airtime and… here I go getting wound up for something that isn’t worth getting wound up about.
Here’s what matters:
Mikel Arteta said he had a “gut feeling” about putting Ethan Nwaneri in and even if you are the most cynical person that could never believe there weren’t ulterior motives to playing a prospective star over other young starlets, or that Arteta was looking to use this opportunity to seal Nwaneri’s loyalty in the face of other clubs lurking, and after Omari Hutchinson’s departure — who cares?
Showing a young prospect that the club sees his work and have his interests at heart? Showing him that his hard work is noted and the club believe in him? Regardless of it being “a gut feeling” or a longer play by a manager to retain talent, this was an opportunity to aptly reward a young kid in a match that was dominated on the day by the Gunners.
Most importantly, it was an opportunity for the boss to send a real message to every single young academy player that if they worked hard, there was a path for them to walk in the shoes of Nwaneri. That, despite criticisms of Arteta stating he doesn’t care for youth, there is a way for young players to walk down the dressing room hallway and move from the youth teams to the first team.
And you cannot watch that video of those young Gunners ecstatic to see “Ethan” entering the game for 4 simple minutes in a match that’s all but done and finished, as if he is coming on in a Champions League final, and not believe that this moment has a beautiful ripple effect up and down the club.
It was a chance for kids to dream. And to see that dreams can come true. And isn’t there a part of sport that forever brings out the dreamer in you? Feels like moments like THIS are what it’s all about. Why are people trying spoil them?