By Tony Attwood
Collating the anniversary files makes one very aware of just how fragile a career in football is. Even for those youngsters who play for their country at under-18 level or who win the Youth Cup playing for Arsenal. They must think they have the world in front of them.
I was moved to think of this by an article on Arsenal.com, “Where are they now” which summarised the current whereabouts of the players who won the 2009 youth cup.
James Shea in goal joined AFC Wimbledon on a free transfer in July 2014 and has since become their first-choice goalkeeper, starting their FA Cup third-round defeat against Liverpool in January.
James never played for Arsenal and dropped into non-league with Needham Market, and Harrow Borough before joining Wimbledon.
Craig Eastmond was one of the lucky ones who signed pro forms on 30 June 2009, and went on to make 10 first-team appearances for Arsenal before being loaned to Colchester Utd on 27 September 2012.
On 20 May 2013 Craig left Arsenal for Colchester Utd. He played 49 times for them before moving on but is now a free agent, having most recently appeared just once for Yeovil Town.
Thomas Cruise is another player who despite seemingly having a bright future is now a free agent.
Tom started Arsenal’s final Champions League group-stage game against Olympiacos in 2009, and had a three match loan spell in 2010/11 with Carlisle. He then headed south to the opposite end of the football league and signed for Torquay, for whom he played 61 games across three seasons.
He also picked up six England under 19 caps, and could be forgiven if he thought he had a career in football. But he is now unattached, following a release by Torquay, now languishing in the Conference.
Kyle Bartley however is more of a success story. On 5 August 2011 Kyle was loaned to Rangers, who at the end of the season ended up as runners’ up in the Premier League, after two loan spells with Sheffield Utd.
He played 35 times for Sheffield Utd., and 24 times for Rangers before moving to Swansea on 16 August 2012 for £1m.
A further loan to Birmingham brought him 17 games but then on 29 January 2014, he was recalled by Swansea and was ultimately handed a new three-year contract with Swansea until June 2017.
Francis Coquelin was born on 13 May 1991 and played for AS du Bourny, and Stade Lavallois before moving to Arsenal in July 2008. After a loan spell with Lorient on 5 July 2013, having signed a new long term contract with Arsenal, and went on loan to Freiburg.
Untold Arsenal first mentioned him on 25 July 2008 in an article contrasting Arsenal’s relaxed pre-season training methods with those of other clubs saying…
“And what about Francis Coquelin. Aged 17 from SASP Stade Lavallois Mayeene MFC of whom you have never heard (and nor had I) he looked amazingly sharp in the game this week. How would he fit in and get experience if we were playing for money?…
“So doing it the Arsenal way [in low key training sessions] is not quite as goofy as it seems. The players are better prepared for the season, the youngsters like Coquelin come out of nowhere and show us just how good they are…”
On 5 July 2013 in a move that surprised a few, Coquelin, having signed a long term contract went to Freiburg on a season long loan. However he returned to Arsenal in the summer of 2014 and was given a new squad number.
On 3 November 2014 Francis Coquelin was loaned to Charlton in order for him to get some games (having been a regular on the Arsenal bench). He was recalled on 12 December after five games and came on as a sub in the next three games, before taking over as Arsenal’s first choice defensive midfielder.
Luke Ayling joined Yeovil Town in 2010 and went on to make just less than 200 appearances for the club before joining Bristol City. In 2014/15 he played in the Bristol side that won League One and secured automatic promotion to the Championship.
Next we have Henri Lansbury who played three league and two cup games for Arsenal.
His first loan period was with Scunthorpe (16 league games) and on 21 August 2009 went on loan to Watford and played for them 37 times. After that it was further successful loan spells with Norwich City (22 November 2010) and West Ham during the course of which on 13 September 2011 he signed a contract extension, before a permanent move to Nottingham Forest where he is a regular member of the team, having played over 100 games.
Jack Wilshere became Arsenal’s youngest-ever league player when he appeared at the age of 16 years and 256 days, and was also the 10th-youngest player to be capped by England. In 2010 he had a loan spell at Bolton (probably just to show him what life away from Arsenal would be like if he didn’t behave himself), and played 14 league games. He has now played over 100 games for us and was a cup winner in 2014 and 2015.
Gilles Sunu was loaned to Lorient on 31 January 2011, and after the loan he signed for them permanently. He never played for Arsenal in the league but made four cup appearances, and has played over 90 times for Lorient. In January 2015 he moved on to Evian but was unable to help prevent their relegation to the second division in France.
Sanchez Watt played three League Cup games for Arsenal, and scored on his debut against West Bromwich Albion. He then moved on to Colchester in 2013, and before joining Colchester United in 2013 and played 44 times for them before being released by the club.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas made five appearances for the first team before joining Ipswich Town and playing 71 league games there. He then moved on to Bristol City scoring 24 goals in 82 games as they gained promotion to the Championship. However he was then released and is now a free agent.
So there we have it… two of the 11 players who started that final now play for the first team, and one other has made a success of things in the Premier League.
At the other end of the scale we have the free agents. Of course this doesn’t mean that they will all be out of work come August, but they have to tout themselves around to find work in their chosen career.