Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Ismail Oulad M'hand discusses learning his trade in his homeland, before moving to England to join up with his brother in our academy.
My first interaction with the ball was on the streets in The Hague in my home country, the Netherlands. It didn’t take long for my dad to notice our abilities and sign up both me and my brother, Salah-Eddine, for our local football club.
After about two years and a lot of goals between us, we had the choice between a number of academies in Holland where we could take the next steps in our career. We saw Feyenoord as the best fit. My brother is a year older than me and plays for Arsenal’s under-23 team, and being part of the same academy as each other has a lot of benefits.
Our family is set up so we can chase our dream of becoming professional footballers, and it’s really beneficial to me to be reminded of that by having my brother both at home and in a club environment. Getting into football was inevitable, it was always going to happen! I remember it was actually my cousins that kickstarted my interest in football at a family get-together. We started kicking a ball together and I haven’t stopped ever since!
After nine educational years in Dutch youth football, it was time for a new challenge. My brother got offered a professional contract at Feyenoord but unfortunately, it didn’t go through. This also had an effect on my future there. Then my brother joined Arsenal in the summer of 2020. I couldn’t follow and join straight away because I was too young and on top of that, the coronavirus pandemic delayed everything even more.
"Being physical is one of my key strengths so I can use that to my advantage"
It was tough and frustrating for me to be away from football for so long, but after three long years, this is the first season I have finally been able to show what I am about on the pitch and what I can do a bit more consistently.
When looking at my move from Holland to England, I have noticed that English football has a lot more emphasis on the physical side of the game than Dutch football. Being physical is one of my key strengths though, so I can use that to my advantage together with the tactical and technical abilities that I picked up from my time at Feyenoord in Holland.
I would describe myself as a box-to-box midfielder that has both attacking and defensive qualities. Off the ball I am strong in one v one duels, breaking up counter-attacks and counter-pressing when there is a transition moment. On the ball, I am composed with both feet, I get my head up to scan and always look to play forward passes first. I am a midfielder with scoring abilities and I like to create chances for my teammates by putting them in front of the goal with through passes.
"I always want what is best for my brother"
I always want what is best for my brother, Salah, so seeing him not being able to play at the moment because he is injured really hurts. I knew this season he would go on and have a successful season in the Championship, but injuries have been tough on him and they have impacted his loan move to Hull City, a big chance for him to show what he can do. Even though he has had such a tough time, he is so strong mentally and he’s so determined, and that’s a big reason why I look up to him – he’s an inspiration.
I am sure this experience will make him stronger, and this is something that we got from the way our dad brought us up with martial arts. Since he came back from his loan spell in January, it looks like he is even more hungry than before.
All I can do is tell him to stay patient, keep doing what he always has done, and try to make him proud when he comes to watch me play. My plans for next season are to work hard, stay fit and I’m sure the rest will follow.
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