By Lambros Lambrou
It may seem unlikely, but the first time that Isaac Hayden made an impression on Arsenal was when he was playing for a team at the receiving end of a five-goal drubbing at the feet of the young Gunners!
“I was playing for my former club Southend United and we lost 5-0 but I felt I’d had a decent game,” he says.
“I was playing as a holding midfielder and was really disappointed by the result. The coaches at Arsenal have now told me that they felt I was one of the best players on the pitch that day despite the result and they began watching me as a consequence. Later on that year we played Arsenal at Hale End and won 9-4 and I scored four. Arsenal then approached Southend and so I am now a Gunner.”
The 16 year-old is already 6’1” tall and has settled in nicely since joining us three years ago, but it is not yet absolutely clear where he is destined to play. “I have mostly been a holding midfielder, he explains, “but Arsenal have started playing me at centre-back. I enjoy both positions. I want to play in as many games as I can this season and so being able to play both roles may help me.”
Isaac is an England youth international and was part of the Young Lions side that won the Victory Shield, despite a disastrous opening game.
He remembers: “We lost 4-0 to Wales in the first game but we picked ourselves up from that disappointment and went on to lift the trophy. It was an important tournament for me from a development point of view as there was a lot of pressure - firstly because it was live on Sky and also because England had been victorious for the previous nine years on the trot.”
The first-year scholar has not yet started for the Under-18s in the Academy League but has already picked up good experience. “I was a non playing substitute on many occasions last season, which gave me a good insight,” he states.
“I also spent a half-term week at the training ground where I also joined in with the Reserves for training which was fantastic I feel that I was given a good grounding for this year, but, to be honest I was not fully prepared for pre-season. That was gruelling. The first day was reasonably light, but by day seven we were being pushed to the maximum, body and mind. That was the same earlier this summer in respect to the Nordic Tournament with England. Our schedule was four games in six days. It was a mental and physical challenge which taught me a lot.”
Isaac is an articulate lad with an obvious desire to learn. His football education has been supplemented by watching DVDs of players like Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane who were in their prime when he was just about kicking a ball.
He smiles: “They have been the two best players in the role that I play and I find it useful to learn from them, especially Patrick Vieira who, because I am an Arsenal fan, was my favourite player. I am also inspired by Jack Wilshere, who has shown what is possible. Jack is a great player, but he is a hard worker and very determined and those are the key elements that are required to succeed.”
Isaac also has his father Sol by his side. “My dad was a youth player with Aston Villa and so has experience to share,” he notes.
“He used to work with me on technique when I was very young and helped me a lot. My dad enrolled me with a Sunday league team but I only played two games! – Southend came in and signed me up after the second match.”
The desire to educate himself off the pitch is also strong for Isaac. “I am not going to begin my A-Levels this year, but will wait for my second year as I feel there will be a lot more demands on me in my first year – there is a lot to take in,” he explains.
“I really want to study English A Level because I am also attracted to journalism. This year, though, I want to play as much as I can for the Under-18s, perhaps get a couple of appearances in the Reserves and hopefully that will be enough for me to be part of the England Under-17 squad for the European Championships next May.”
THEN AND NOW...
Teams you played for before Arsenal?
St Martin’s School, Brentwood Boys FC and Southend United.
Best advice received?
If something doesn’t work first time, try it again!
Best football moment before joining Arsenal?
Coming runner-up in an Under-12 tournament in France with Southend United. It included Lyon, Marseille and Bayern Munich.
Supported growing up?
I supported Arsenal!
Who did you pretend to be on the playground?
Always Patrick Vieira.
Other sports good at?
Athletics, golf and swimming.
Favourite kids’ TV programme growing up?
Definitely The Simpsons!
Miss O’Heare, at St Martins School.
Most influential on your football career so far?
Several people: my dad, Sol Hayden ; Luke Hobbs and Mark Bonner, my coaches at Southend; and Steve Leonard here at Arsenal.
Which other clubs were interested in signing you before Arsenal?
Manchester United and Tottenham.
Fave item of clothing?
A Range Rover Sport.
Role model from current squad?
I’d go for Jack Wilshere.
Best thing about being part of the Academy?
The training programme, and the spirit.
Three words to describe you as a player?
Rough, powerful, technical.
Three words to describe you as a person?
Calm, collected, friendly.
Three people you follow on Twitter?
I don’t use Twitter!
Something we don’t know about you?
My golf handicap is eight.