Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Zac Shuaib discusses mixing football with his studies, getting scouted, and the joy of earning a scholarship.
I grew up in the Ladbroke Grove area of West London and I’ve lived there my whole life. My father is Nigerian and my mother is half Spanish and half Indian. When I was younger my mum would sign me up for a lot of activities like dance, drumming, tennis and football. Then as I started to get older, I developed more of a passion for football and that took over. By the time I was ten, football was my main priority.
I went to Eton College, a famous boarding school attended by the likes of Prince Harry and Boris Johnson. It was a challenging but eye-opening experience, everyone there is driven academically and a lot is expected from you. The biggest takeaway from Eton was balancing my priorities. I had to make time for football and education, this became more important when I sat my GCSEs in the summer.
The first few months were tough but playing football after school helped me to relax and enjoy myself better. I learned a lot about myself during that period because it isn’t easy living away from home at a young age. Luckily, I had my teammate Daniel Oyetunde at Eton with me and it’s great to see us both together at Arsenal now.
"I was approached by Tottenham, Fulham, Norwich and Leyton Orient"
I try to model my game on Sergio Busquets, he plays the same position as me and can dictate tempo at the highest level. He’s a Rolls Royce of a player.
At the age of seven, I joined my first team called Chiswick Youth. After two years there, I was bouncing around clubs in London, with stints at Hanwell FC and Focus Football. The last club I was at before I joined an academy was London Colney Colts where my current teammates Alexei Rojas, Seb Ferdinand and Omari Benjamin played.
I first got scouted at 13 in a showcase game. This is where you pay a fee and you get to play in front of multiple scouts from different clubs around the country looking for talented young footballers. I played very well that day and was approached by several clubs, including Tottenham, Fulham, Norwich City and Leyton Orient. I decided to go on trial at Spurs.
Due to the coronavirus lockdown, my trial was split into two parts. However, I’d say the lockdown helped me to focus and train properly. Every single day I was in my garden practicing hard and I used that period as an opportunity to develop my abilities. After the lockdown ended Spurs decided to officially sign me. I was only there for just over a year until we both decided that it’d be better if I moved on from the club.
Shortly after, Arsenal showed an interest in me and offered me a trial. Initially, I was nervous because I just wanted to find a club where I could settle and play my football.
"I got lost on my first day at London Colney! It's so much bigger than Hale End"
Within five weeks, I got my decision to sign and I was so relieved and joined just before my 15th birthday. A year later, I got even better news when they confirmed that I would be getting my scholarship! That was a great day because I worked so hard and I played very well in the lead-up to it.
My first time at London Colney was an eventful one as I got lost in the building! I had to ask members of staff where to go because it’s so much bigger than Hale End. It’s a fantastic facility and it is surreal when you see the likes of Saka, Odegaard, Rice and Arteta around the building. But after a while it becomes normal and I’m comfortable around them now.
One of the best experiences since I’ve been at Colney is training with the first team. The tempo and intensity a whole new level. There would be long periods where I would barely touch the ball, and the running was crazy but it was a great experience and an eye-opener into first-team football.
Working under Jack Wilshere has been brilliant, to say the least! He’s a centre mid like me and he’s someone who’s played at the top level. He’s played in big Champions League games, and cup finals and represented his country at the World Cup. With the knowledge and experience he’s got playing under the likes of Arsène Wenger and sharing the pitch with Iniesta, Busquets and Messi, it’s always a blessing to hear from him because he understands the journey that each and every single one of us is on at this point of our lives.
He always demands a high level from us and I know that I can develop my game under him.
This season, I want to add more attacking threat to my game. As a central midfielder, a lot of your work is predicated on controlling the tempo and winning battles but attacking contributions are so important now, so I’d like to increase my goals and assists like the best midfielders in the world do. Before each game, I say my prayers but I do have a little pre-match playlist and it’s mainly American rappers who get me hyped before the game, it features the likes of Drake, Gunna, Lil Baby, Lil Durk and others.
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