Every matchday programme features an exclusive feature with one of our stars of the future. In the Tottenham issue, 16-year-old Mathaeus Roberts told us about his journey to signing a scholarship, playing for the under-18s – and representing Wales.
I was born into a massive football-crazy family – so it felt like I was always going to love the game.
One of my first memories is playing inside the house with a sponge ball along with my brother. I just always had a ball at my feet when I was young, and I’d take one with me basically wherever I went too. I think having those roots has helped me build up my love of the game.
I can still remember the first time I went to watch the Arsenal first team. It was a Champions League match against Montpellier, the one in which Lukas Podolski scored that volley. I’ll always remember the moment the ball hit the net and the crowd went crazy. Being inside the stadium for the first time and hearing the atmosphere in the ground just gave me a massive motivation. I think that night I was truly hit by how big football is to people, what a huge part of people’s lives it is.
This season I’ve stepped up to under-18 level and things are going well. The main difference is definitely the speed of the game – it’s a lot faster at under-18 level, so you have to get used to that. Technically, I believe I can play at this level and higher, but that change in speed is what I’ve noticed the most. I feel like I’ve adapted well to it so far.
I’ve really enjoyed spending more time at London Colney. To be honest, it’s something I’ve looked forward to for years. To finish school and play football full-time was my dream, and I’m living it now. It’s a good feeling when you wake up in the morning and remember that you have the opportunity to go and play football.
I think representing Wales has helped me to acclimatise too. I qualify to play for them through my grandad on my dad’s side, who was born and raised in Wales. I recently played against England in a friendly, and it was good to be back with the boys and the coaches, who I know well. It makes me really proud to play for Wales, and I’d probably say that my proudest moment in football so far was when I made my first international appearance, at under-16 level.
I feel like my experiences at Arsenal have helped me with Wales, and my experiences with Wales have helped me at Arsenal. They go hand in hand, and that’s helped me to improve. When you’re on international duty, playing against teams from all over Europe, you learn about different styles of play. There’s a different environment and they prepare for matches differently. There was a day before a game recently where we went to a pitch and just walked through set-pieces. It makes you realise how many details are involved in the game, and how just one of those can make the difference between winning and losing. Now, I’m really trying to concentrate on the small details, at Arsenal and with Wales, which has helped me.
As I mentioned, I’m proud to represent Wales and there’s a few players at senior level who I look up to. One is of course Aaron Ramsey, who was here at Arsenal for years and achieved so much when he was at the club. He plays in the same position as me and I watch a lot of his games to learn as much as I can from him.
I’ve spoken to Ethan Ampadu a few times too, when we’ve been around the first team. He’s taught me a few things – especially a few valuable lessons in terms of what he’s taken from his career so far. He’s still young but he’s done a lot in the game. I asked him what his experiences of stepping up from schoolboy football were like and what he told me actually relates to what I’ve experienced so far. It helped get me an insight of what it would be like when I got to London Colney.
I spoke to Joe Willock and Bukayo in lockdown too. They talked me through their memories of stepping up from Hale End to Colney and I think that gave me a bit of an advantage when I arrived full-time at the training ground. Hopefully in time I’ll be able to emulate what they’ve achieved.
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