Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Bless Akolbire discusses the Ghanaian heroes that inspired him to start playing, his international ambitions and the emotions of gaining his scholarship after a previous setback.
Football has always been a massive part of my life. My interest first started through my older brother, Lordon. My dad would take me along whenever he would drop him to his games and I would watch him on the sidelines. I'd also play in my local area too but watching my brother inspired me to start playing as I wanted to be like him.
My first football memory would have to be watching Ghana at the 2010 World Cup. Given that my whole family is Ghanaian. It was inspiring to see my country do so well and everyone was so excited and the energy in my house was special. That Ghanaian team was a very talented side too having the likes of Andre Ayew, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Sulley Muntari, but my favourite player was Asamoah Gyan, he was our top scorer and I enjoyed his celebrations - he would always do an Azonto style dance and I loved it.
Although they were dramatically knocked out in the quarter-finals to Uruguay, they were my early footballing heroes and they showed that Africa has enough quality to compete on the world’s biggest stage. In the future, I’d love to put on the famous Black Stars shirt and lead them to glory at an international tournament.
"In the future, I’d love to put on the famous Black Stars shirt and lead them to glory"
I started playing football aged six and that’s when I joined my first Sunday League football team called White Star Academy FC in Edmonton. They would play me either left wing or centre midfield but I always preferred to play in the middle. I loved it there and still go back whenever I can to speak to the coaches and the kids there. I tried to model my game on Yaya Toure because he could do it all – pass, dribble, shoot and score. He was the ultimate, complete midfielder.
Unfortunately, my primary school never had a team but when I joined Gladesmore Community School that’s when I started playing for the school team. It’s a school that has seen a lot of talent pass through including former Arsenal and Ghana midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong.
I have a really close relationship with my older brother, Lordon, who is four years older than me. When Colchester United wanted to take him on trial, they saw me play a couple of matches and also offered me a trial for my age group, the under-10s. To have an older brother who plays football is a blessing because he can always offer me advice on his experiences and we have a friendly rivalry where we try to help each other become better players. Thankfully, we both got signed and it was a proud moment for both of us and our family.
However, I would only be at Colchester for two seasons. I had to leave because it was too far from where I lived in Tottenham. I went back to White Star, worked really hard and after an unsuccessful trial with Chelsea, I was offered a trial at Arsenal which went really well. When I got the official confirmation that Arsenal wanted to sign me, I was overjoyed because just a year earlier, I had to leave Colchester but now I was at Arsenal!
Now I have my scholarship and I just can’t believe how my life has changed from only a couple of years ago, when I didn’t get through that trial at Chelsea. It makes me feel very proud to have my scholarship but I know there is still lots more work to be done if I want to achieve my goal of playing for Arsenal's first team.
"I’d describe myself as a box-to-box type player, I have defensive attributes but can dribble past a few players"
Going to London Colney is such a different environment to Hale End as it’s where the first team, under-21s and under-18s train. You can tell from the facilities and staff that you need to play at a much higher level. Since I’ve been there, everyone has been so welcoming. Josh Nichols has been a great friend to me, he’s been there for a year already so it’s good to hear his experience. Also, Amario Cozier-Duberry went to Gladesmore with me so I’ve spoken to him on several occasions. It’s inspiring to see him training with the first team.
When I see guys like Amario, Myles, and Ethan who are both my age on first-team tours, it shows that there’s a pathway there if you can work hard and play to a high level. Arsenal has always been a club that is not afraid to show faith in their academy through the likes of Bukayo, Reiss, Emile and Eddie, and it’s great to have a former academy player in Jack Wilshere as coach. He has great insight and has competed against the likes of Fabregas, Messi, Iniesta, and Yaya Toure. I’m going to learn so much from him.
I’d describe myself as a box-to-box type player, I have defensive attributes but can dribble past a few players and pick out a killer pass in the final third too. My goal is to get 10 goals and 10 assists this season and it’s been a decent start as I scored the only goal for the under-18s in our recent win against Sutton United. I’d also like to play as many games for the under-18s and under-21s as possible. My aspiration for this year is to win the FA Youth Cup. We got so close last season but have a really strong squad again this year too.
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