By Rob Kelly
To test yourself at the very highest level is every aspiring footballer’s dream. To represent your country against the very best players on the planet is something to work tirelessly towards. And yet for Alfred Mugabo, that opportunity came sooner than expected.
The versatile Arsenal midfielder was just 15 when he was handed his chance to play for Rwanda at the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico in 2011. It proved to be an experience he will never forget.
“It was great - it’s good to see what’s out there,” Mugabo told Arsenal.com. “Playing in a tournament like that definitely gives you an insight into the level you need to reach. I’ve tried to take a lot from it and take it on to my football at Arsenal.
“You start to see how football is played in different parts of the world. I travelled around the world for two months and I’m happy I went.
“I was away from my family for a long time, so I learnt to cope by myself. I got used to the travelling environment so I’m not new to it.
“It’s good that I went through it because it’s prepared me for what’s ahead and I’m very happy I played in the tournament.”
Mugabo - known as ‘Abs’ to his team-mates - has made the breakthrough into the Arsenal Under-21s in recent months, and will be looking to continue his progress at Reading on Sunday.
The 17-year-old has been delighted with the strides forward he has made this term, but accepts he needs to continue working hard if he is to cement a place in Terry Burton’s side.
“It’s been a good season. It’s not been the best of starts with the under-18s but in terms of my progression, it’s been great,” he said.
“It’s good to be given a chance to play [in the under-21s]. When you get the chance, you have to take it.
“It’s a great learning experience. I just want to keep on doing the best I can and end up getting as far as possible.
“The games are more physical and the players are faster and stronger. You have to move the ball a bit quicker and put some more thought into your passes. Blackburn was a great experience and I learnt a lot from it, and the same goes for Norwich.
“Everyone’s aim is to secure their place. At the moment I’m just trying to do as best as I can and take the chances I’m given. You can’t ask for more than that.”
- We will have live tweets from the under-21s’ match at the Madejski Stadium on the @ArsenalLive account from 12.55pm on Sunday