Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, it's Harrison Dudziak.
My earliest memory of playing football when I was growing up is with my first Sunday League team, Hampstead, when I was just five years old. Most of my family were always into football, but it was my dad, Terry, who used to play semi-pro, who was the first person to get me kicking a ball and take me to training and matches.
He was a big influence and his love of football rubbed off on me. He was a central midfielder who could also play right back, so he has been helpful in my career and he gives me bits of advice here and there. He started taking me to QPR matches when I was about six years old and I was always playing football at Regent’s Park with him –
I used to go there and kick a ball around and practice passing with him.
One funny story from my Sunday League days, I actually used to play with Robin van Persie’s son, Shaqueel. This was for my second team, Sapo Verde. I was only there for a couple of months, but Shaqueel was great and had a quality left foot, just like his dad... he used to love scoring free kicks!
Hearing about Arsenal’s interest in me was an amazing feeling. I had been playing at Brentford since I was six, but they closed their academy when I reached under-10 level. I got a call from a scout called Shaun O’Connor, who used to work at Brentford, and he told me that Arsenal were interested in having me go on trial there.
I think Brentford were in League One at the time, so to go from there to Arsenal was a massive jump for me. It just so happens that my grandparents and my mum’s side of the family are all massive Arsenal fans, so they were really, really happy for me.
At the time I wasn’t fully aware of how big this all was in my life. Obviously, I knew Arsenal were a massive club and I was definitely nervous coming into it, but it was amazing at the same time.
When I got to Hale End I remember playing in the old building where they had the massive Astro pitch in the middle. We would always go there and have a kickabout before training. I would see all these players and think to myself, “Wow, these guys must be so good, they’re playing for Arsenal!” I always wondered if I could match their level and be able to get into this squad. I was really taken aback by the whole thing because the facilities were also much better than what we had at Brentford. The grass pitch was like a carpet.
I remember Freddie Ljungberg came and took a training session with us once at under-13 level. It was in winter and unfortunately the session got cut short because the pitch was covered in snow. That was great, but it’s coaches like Adam Birchall, who, I had at under- 12, 14s and 16s, and Alex Nichols too, who have had the biggest impact on my career so far.
If you haven’t seen me play yet, I would say I’m a “Spanish player” – not physically big, but I’m small and technical and I like to play clever little passes and complete one-twos with teammates. I base my game on players like Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.
From the boys I play with now, I actually went to school with both Luis Brown and Ethan Nwaneri. I think that upbringing really helped us because the school was so heavily focused on football, they always wanted us to win. We won the National Cup in Year 7 and then Ethan joined in Year 8, so we had three academy boys in the same team. We all grew up in an environment where people were talented at football and always played at a decent level. I’ve known Luis the longest of all the guys in the team now – he has been there all the time since I’ve been at Arsenal and we have a great connection both on and off the pitch.
I think I’ve had a great start to the season, I’ve played plenty of matches and made my under-21s debut in the Premier League Cup against Burnley. That was a great experience, but the physicality was a big step up from under-18s. I remember I was blowing after about 30 minutes and the speed they move the ball at is a lot different.
I definitely want to get physically stronger, but I also want to add more goals to my game because becoming a midfielder who can score goals will add real value to my game. Jack is working with me on this – he’s big on me making late runs into the box and wants me to score more. Having him as my coach has been brilliant, obviously, because he played the same position as me so he knows what I should and shouldn’t do on the pitch. He joins in our training sessions sometimes and he’s definitely still got it!
Working with Jack and seeing the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka doing what they’re doing just makes you feel like it’s so much more possible for you. When you see someone who was in your position at Hale End doing these amazing things for the first team and with England, it gives you that real belief that you could be there too one day.
I’ve been called up to an England camp at under-15 level and that is something I really want to kick on with to get more international caps and play at different tournaments with England. I have Polish roots from my grandad, but I think he would actually rather I play for England!
When I look back at the end of the season, hopefully, I will have continued to be a regular for the under-18s, got a few more under-21s games under my belt and gone to a tournament with England too. These are the things I really want to achieve.
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