Young gun

Young Gun: Charles Sagoe Jr

Charles Sagoe Jr celebrates scoring for Arsenal under-21s

Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Charles Sagoe Jr reveals how he ended up at the club, and how he's here what he hopes to achieve having had a small slice of first-team life this term.

I'm from the south-west London area and it was my dad who first introduced me to football from a young age. I remember being mesmerised by watching Neymar and Ronaldinho videos on YouTube and then going into the garden trying to copy their skills. The Brazilian players were the ones I looked up to – they always played with a smile on their faces and they made the game of football enjoyable to watch.

Growing up I was a big Arsenal fan and I’ve seen all the highlights of the Invincibles and read up a lot about the great teams over the years. I know I’m only 18 but I watch a lot of football and I analyse games from the past a lot. I always hear from older family members how much supporters adored the likes of Henry, Pires, Bergkamp, Wright and Overmars.

"Hale End was an enjoyable time and there are many amazing memories to look back on"

I started off at a local team called Target but they are now more commonly known as Met Police. I played there for a few years until I was scouted by Fulham from around under-9 level, and I played around two seasons there before Arsenal came calling. Signing for Fulham was a big moment for me and my family at the time as it was the first step in academy football and it made sense as it was very local to my home. The coaches and staff made me feel welcome from a very young age, and it was a good environment for me to begin my academy journey. Other clubs like QPR and Brentford were also interested, but we decided to go with Fulham.

The move to Arsenal was an intriguing one as they first showed their interest when I was playing at a tournament for Fulham and I scored and assisted against them. After the game I remember one coach said I was a very good player and was one to look out for. So when they officially wanted to sign me, my family and I thought it was the right time as we knew Arsenal had admired me from before. And also it’s The Arsenal – a huge step up given the stature and size of the club.

Charles Sagoe Jr celebrates scoring for Arsenal under-21s

Arriving at Hale End I was really nervous - it’s a bit like your first day at school. But the boys and the staff were brilliant with me and everyone was so friendly and welcoming. Once I started opening up it felt natural and I felt part of the family environment. One of my favourite highlights from Hale End days was an international tournament in Spain when I scored a second goal to seal an important win. I also remember a game against Watford in the under-13s Premier League Cup where I scored the winner. Hale End was an enjoyable time and there are many amazing memories to look back on.

When I got my scholarship to go to London Colney it was an amazing feeling for me and my family and I was grateful for the belief the coaches showed in me. My first day at Colney was different because it was during the Covid period when we had social bubbles so I never got to see many first-team players at the time. However, the difference between Hale End and Colney are vast – for example there are a lot more staff and there are a lot of different spaces such as an analysis room and a nutrition room. Once I got my first session under my belt I felt comfortable and it was a great experience to walk into.

"Arsenal believes in its young talent, as we are seeing in the Premier League this season"

Last year was a special year for me as I signed my professional deal. My family and friends were overjoyed when I got the news. It was a massive moment for me because I know that I’m pushing even closer to achieving my dream, which is to play first-team football. It was also such a huge relief because I know how hard I’ve been working for it. I’ve put in the hours and to see that being rewarded with a pro deal was fantastic. It shows how much everyone at Arsenal believes in me and I want to pay back their faith with my performances.

But the work continues, and as the famous saying goes: the reward for hard work is more hard work! It’s very encouraging to see guys like Bukayo, Reiss, Eddie and Emile smashing it for the first-team – it gives me the inspiration to know that Arsenal believes in its young talent, as we are seeing in the Premier League this season.

Seeing someone like Bukayo, who’s played at the World Cup and Euros and is now smashing it in the Premier League with double-digit goals, gives me the motivation to know that I can one day follow the same route because he’s been in the same position as me once upon a time.

Charles Sagoe Jr with Mauro Bandeira and Reuell Walters at Sporting CP

Being involved in the Europa League setup for the Sporting CP away game was an unbelievable experience. I was nervous as it was my first time being involved in the Europa League matchday squad, but all the players were so welcoming and they make you feel part of the team, so no-one ever feels alone. Even though I didn’t get on, I know that this is where I want to be week-in, week-out. The atmosphere at the stadium was immense. I enjoyed being in and around it.

Before going to Lisbon I was part of the camp that went out to Dubai in the winter during the World Cup, which was another surreal experience. The fact that I was able to enjoy the experience with a few boys from the under-21s made it more special. Everyone made me feel welcome, but in particular Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah really opened up to me and spoke to me on a more personal level, which I appreciate.

"Coming up against the likes of Ben White and Gabriel one v one is a much more challenging battle than what I’m used to"

There were some good times and the vibes were great. For my initiation, I had to sing “One Dance” by Drake, which I was nervous about but after the 30 seconds were up I got a round of applause at least! I’ve also trained with the first-team and the main difference between the under-21s and the first-team is the intensity! The intensity of under-21 football is already high but at the first-team level, it goes a step higher.

When I’m coming up against the likes of Ben White and Gabriel one v one it’s a much more challenging battle than what I’m used to. They know exactly how to defend against me and because of their experience, they are smart enough to put themselves in the right positions. It’s the little details of my movements they’ll pick up on and it’s those fine margins that you need to learn if you want to play at the high level they’re at.

For the rest of the season, I want to establish myself in the under-21s by playing well, getting goals and assists and helping the team win as much as possible. I want to continue enjoying my football by playing with a smile on my face.

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