Per Mertesacker has named Freddie Ljungberg as the man who made a ‘real effort’ to push Bukayo Saka up the ranks despite his young age, and the Arsenal youngster has taken everything in his stride.
The recently-turned 20 year-old has become an integral part of the first-team squad since making his big breakthrough at the age of 17, highlighted by his award for Arsenal Player of the Year last season.
Mertesacker admitted that he was initially reluctant to raise Saka up the age groups however, despite strong pressure from former assistant coach Ljungberg, and the Swede has been proven right by some way.
“I remember Freddie Ljungberg making a real effort to get Bukayo up the age groups but I don’t judge players at 16 because I have seen so many really talented players of that age who three years later have no chance,” Mertesacker is quoted by TheSun as stating.
“It’s between the ages of 16 and 19 that the magic happens. That’s when you see the difference between those players who grab the opportunity with everything they have and those who are given multiple chances and don’t take them.
“Bukayo has the mindset of a lifelong learner and I can only congratulate his parents for raising a son who is so humble, so respectful and so disciplined.
“Watching him play for England fills us with so much pride and even the huge disappointment of missing that penalty at the Euros was the making of him.
“We absolutely love it that he is such an inspiration who always stays true to himself along the bumpy pathway and has not been distracted by the shiny things that will come to him such as contracts and money.
“He has never lost sight of the fact that he is really fortunate to work under such privileged circumstances and those principles will last longer than any contract that he might sign.”
Call me cynical, but this half-feels like Mertesacker is trying to use Saka’s good nature to stop him from considering leaving the club that has helped him reach the height that he is current at, but I so want to believe that our star boy is as happy as he appears on the pitch.
Leaving the club would definitely be an unnecessary risk for him at present, and we could look at Raheem Sterling’s current issues at Manchester City as a big example as to why he shouldn’t be looking elsewhere, but there is no doubt that the big spenders will be looking at his progress and will attempt to turn his head at some point.
Will Arsenal be able to fend off any interest in the youngster in the coming years?