Our academy scholars are interviewed for the very first time in the matchday programme. For Norwich issue, we spoke to 16-year-old right back, Reuell Walters.
My journey to join the Arsenal Academy has been a crazy one, but let’s start from the beginning…
When I really think back to my love for football, it all started with playing for my Sunday league team, Peckham Town, and scoring a goal from the halfway line! I remember that feeling when I scored and once you get a taste for the game like that that’s it, you’re in.
My mum and dad were always so supportive and they were the key figures that started it all, but after meeting Chris Lock, my first proper football coach, that changed everything. He has played a massive part in my football career, so much so that he’s actually my godfather now!
Under his guidance we won every single season that we played under him and I’m pretty sure that almost all of our team ended up in professional academies. A few went to Wimbledon, some went to Chelsea, and there was another baller in the year above me who you’ll probably recognise… Omari Hutchinson!
Chris was brilliant for me and every player that played under him will say the same. At that age he hardly did anything on the tactical side – it was all about making it as fun and competitive as possible. He was drilling into our heads that everything we do matters, and we should always put 100 per cent into it. I loved it.
I ended up playing there until I was nine and that’s when I was scouted by Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Tottenham. We did a lot of research and decided that Tottenham would be the best place for my development. I stayed with them for the next four years of my life and they eventually offered me another two-year contract, but this is when I made the biggest decision of my career so far.
At that time, I was permanently playing with the age group above, but I felt like over the years I’d lost my way with what makes me stand out on a football pitch and I was becoming a player that I didn’t want to be. I wasn’t attacking like I used to, I wasn’t as confident as I used to be, and I wasn’t showing what I thought I was capable of. I felt like being in an academy made me try to play a certain way and I was almost playing within myself.
In that moment, my dad and I made the decision together that I would take a break from academy football and focus on myself again. That break would last nearly two years and I used almost every moment to challenge and improve myself. It was a really scary and risky decision, but I knew there was more to come from me and that I needed this break.
We were doing hours and hours of 1v1 coaching, going to games for the tactical side, going to the gym and spending a lot of time in athletics too. After two years I felt like I was ready to go for trials again and that’s when Manchester United scouted me. I turned up and almost instantly they told me that they wanted me to join them for the NI Super Cup. I had an amazing time there and I really felt like I was back to being the player I used to be, but at the end of the trial the papers fell through. The Premier League told United that they had too many players and I couldn’t sign. I was gutted and that’s when Covid struck, but then I got my chance here in north London.
For me, football is all about winning your battles and being able to make an impact on the game. Sure, going backwards is great for keeping the ball, but you can get so carried away with playing safe that you’re harming your team and it’s not advancing the game. I’m always trying to hit the areas that cause teams trouble, and that’s what Arsenal has allowed me to do – to be myself on the pitch!
When I came here, it didn’t just feel like a club, it felt like a family. I walk into the training ground and I’m saying hello to the kit men, the kitchen staff, everyone! I love that and when I feel comfortable in an environment, I feel like I can flourish and be the best version of myself.
I was only saying to my dad the other day, it’s crazy to think that two years ago I wasn’t even at a club and now I’ve made by under-23s debut at just 16. That was an incredible experience for me, but my entire time here at Arsenal has been amazing and I’ve got to thank all the coaches, staff and players for that. Now I’m hungry for more opportunities.
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