Young gun

Young Gun: Karl Hein

Hein young gun

Throughout the season, we catch up with our young Gunners in the matchday programme to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Karl Hein explains growing up in Estonia, reaching the first team squad and more.

I was born in Polva, a town in southern Estonia, but most of my childhood was spent in the capital, Tallinn, particularly in Kalamaja, which has become a popular tourist destination, due to its vibrant lifestyle and stunning scenery. Growing up there was wonderful. 

As a child, Cristiano Ronaldo was a massive influence on me. I was a huge fan and would always choose the team he played for when gaming on FIFA. Alongside him, I admired goalkeepers like Edwin van der Sar and Iker Casillas. Their skill and dedication were incredibly inspiring.

"It was clear that Arsenal was not just a football club; it was a family"

My brother played a significant role in shaping my passion for football. We'd spend hours playing together, practicing keepy uppies, and honing our skills. It was during one of these casual sessions on a local pitch in Estonia that fate intervened. A coach from a nearby team spotted us and invited us to join their training sessions. 

That was the turning point that set me on my football journey.

After getting noticed during training sessions, I began playing for FC Nomme United, a team led by Estonian legend and former Arsenal goalkeeper, Mart Poom. Mart has been a mentor to me, and I'm fortunate to have regular conversations with him, especially since he's also the national team goalkeeping coach. Mart's association with Arsenal played a significant role. Through him, I got the chance to go on trials at several clubs. Initially, I had a trial at Brighton, and then the opportunity arose to trial at Arsenal. It was an exciting journey, and each step brought me closer to fulfilling my dreams. 

Arriving at Arsenal was a mixture of excitement and nerves. The club's stature is immense, and wearing the famous shirt held immense significance for me. It felt like a dream come true. The way the club and the players welcomed me was truly exceptional. Their professionalism and the positive culture within the team left a lasting impression on me. It was clear that Arsenal was not just a football club; it was a family. That environment, coupled with the club's rich history and ambition, made my decision to join an easy one.

Raya Hein

My journey at Arsenal has been quite the rollercoaster ride, especially with the challenges I've faced due to injuries. Despite the ups and downs, being a part of the first team for the last two seasons has been nothing short of incredible. Being part of a team with such a strong winning culture is both exhilarating and motivating. Every day, you're surrounded by teammates who push you to be your best and strive for excellence. Knowing that you're contributing to the team's success, no matter how small your role may seem, is incredibly fulfilling. It's an environment where you're constantly learning and growing, both as a player and as a person. 

Training with players of such calibre is truly a privilege. David, Aaron, and our coach Inaki Cana create a fantastic atmosphere for goalkeeping development. The feeling within our 'goalkeeping union' is great, and I genuinely enjoy every session spent with them. We have an excellent dynamic, and there's a lot of mutual respect and learning that happens each time we step onto the training ground. 

My loan spell at Reading in 2022 was a valuable experience for me. It was my first taste of Championship football, and to be thrown into such a competitive environment alongside some really talented players was really beneficial. Despite the challenges, I believe I coped well with the demands of the league. Unfortunately, my time at Reading was cut short due to injury, but I was proud to have made a contribution to the team's efforts in securing survival that season.

"I realised I shouldn't be nervous because I was living the dream I'd worked so hard for"

To make my debut at the Emirates Stadium against Brighton in the EFL Cup last season was truly a magical moment for me. Wearing the Arsenal jersey, and representing the club was a dream come true. I'll admit, I felt nervous at the start, but as soon as I stepped onto the pitch, those nerves faded away. I realised that I shouldn't be nervous because I was living the dream I had worked so hard for. It was a surreal feeling, and I was filled with a sense of pride and gratitude for the opportunity. 

Playing for the Estonia national team is truly a dream come true for me. Standing on the pitch, singing the anthem before the game fills me with immense pride. It's an honour to wear the national team jersey and represent my country on the international stage. Travelling the world and competing against other nations while knowing that I'm making my parents proud is incredibly fulfilling.

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