Our academy scholars are interviewed for the very first time in the matchday programme. For the Chelsea issue, we spoke to 16-year-old left back, Elian Quesada-Thorn.
"My earliest memory of playing football is being with my dad at indoor football camps. I was only two or three and I could hardly walk at the time, so I have these memories of my dad holding me and swinging me into the football, just to give me that feel for it! He’s always loved football and because of that, it’s always been a part of my life. I’ve never known life without it really.
"Not many people know this but I’m actually eligible to play for four different countries. My dad was born in Costa Rica and he used to play for his local team over there. He spent all of his childhood in Costa Rica and actually stayed there until he was 20, when he moved with my mum to England. I was born pretty soon after that and I’ve still got a lot of family over there, so it’s definitely a place that’s close to my heart and somewhere I visit whenever possible. I’m also eligible to play for Sweden, Ireland and obviously England too. My mum’s dad was Swedish and my mum’s mum was Irish.
"Anyway, those indoor football sessions paid off and I eventually joined my first Sunday league team called Whetstone Wanderers. I joined them when I was six years old I think, and I was there for a good five years or so, but then one day I got my chance to make the step up. I used to train with this guy who had a team of non-academy players from the local area who would play against the academy teams, and as luck would have it, we had a game against Arsenal. I played really well on the day, they invited me to a trial and I’ve been here ever since!
"A lot of players are picked up at six or seven and academy football is all they’ve ever known, but I feel like playing Sunday football until I was 12 allowed me to really appreciate just how fortunate I am to have an opportunity like this. I’m really proud of myself for achieving what I have already.
"Those years at Hale End were incredible, but over the past year I’ve had to make the step up to London Colney and get used to a number of changes in my life. It certainly feels like more of a job now with the days getting longer, but not in a bad way! You just have more responsibilities and if you want to reach your potential, you have to make the step up. It’s what your body needs at this age too. Everything is so professional up here and I’ve found it challenging at points, but I feel like that’s great for my development as both a player and a person.
"If I had to describe myself as a player, I’d say I’ve got a bit of everything. Having played in a load of positions I feel like it’s given me an insight of what’s needed from players in certain areas, so I can relate to a centre back while also understanding what type of runs a winger is going to make. I’m a left-sided player and I feel like my crossing, passing and dribbling are some of my biggest strengths, I’m quite a creative player.
"In terms of my goals for this season, it’s always going to be a challenge because there are so many good players here at Arsenal, but my main goal is to regularly start for the under-18s and help us win the league. We’ve also got some under-17 competitions coming up that I feel like I can be a key player for, and if I show consistency and character in my performances, I really hope that I can make my under-23s debut this season. Making my debut for the under-18s last season was crazy. I could feel the difference straight away!
"As probably the youngest on the pitch at 15, the pace, tempo and physicality was a huge step up from under-16s football, but I loved it. When you say you’re ‘playing up’ at Hale End, it’s usually only one year, but when I played for the under-18s, I was playing against kids three years older who have been training full-time for years now. You just have to grasp it and get on with it because it’s the ones that work the hardest that will prosper in the long run."
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