The tragic career of Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Opinion)

The man who tried too little…. by Ben Dungate

Arsenal has been blessed with some magnificent players throughout its Premier League history: the majestic touch of Dennis Bergkamp; the mercurial talent of Nicolas Anelka; the unplayable physicality of Thierry Henry; the box to box force of Patrick Vieira; the leadership of Tony Adams; the bite of Ian Wright, and so on and so on. So many names that have graced the pitches of Highbury and The Emirates.

But for every legend to evolve within a team there must be a squad of players there to support and facilitate their development. For every Vieira there must be a Petit. For each Pires there must be a Parlour. Those players who fill in the gaps, not just making up the numbers, but doing the jobs that must be done in order for a team to succeed. That is what this post is all about.
One such player finds himself on the brink of leaving the club imminently. A player who managed to reach such highs that he was able to force his way into the National Team, and reach such lows that he was unable to get a game in any position for most of his last loan deal. A 24 year old who appears to be letting his career just fizzle out and disappear before our eyes. Not quite to the extent of Dele Alli, but still…
Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The man who can play most positions but get a game in none of them. Who can look so calm and composed on the ball when he does play, but also appear to put in such little effort. A man who bet his whole career on being a midfielder rather than just accepting the opportunity to play wherever he was needed. Perhaps he didn’t want to end up like James Milner, being a jack of all trades, master of none. But Milner has won the league with 2 different teams, is a Champions League winner, and is still getting picked for Liverpool at the age of 36.
I’m not suggesting AMN is as good as or even a similar style of player to Milner, but he is a terrific athlete like JM and a fine player technically, so we are left to assume that it is his personality that is holding him back. I really like him as a player but find him frustrating as a person. A bit of humility and sacrifice could have lead to a similar career path as Milner. He could’ve governed our midfield for a decade and possibly even have done so for the English National team. But alas we seem set to rue what might have been, and he will be leaving the club in the next week.
To have such potential, such ability, and to have seemingly risked it all because he didn’t want to play at right-back. …
Ben Dungate

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52 Comments

  1. The kid need to get it in his head that right back is where he should earn and wet his bread.

    At a tender age he was such a difficult player for opposing players to go by.

    1. Some games he just looked unbeatable in 1v1s, even against a monster like traore. He is capable of completely shutting down a danger man

      1. Exactly my point Davi.
        Gotanidea is right, Epl top wingers don’t pass him.

        But there must be something wrong am not privy to, as the gaffer has work with so many talents but can’t seems to get through to him.

        I wish him well and that he will make amends to get his career back on track

  2. Grimandi was that sort of unsung hero who filled a lot of gaps in wenger’s early successes. I think it takes a certain mentality, and I don’t think AMN has that. It seems like he wants to be seen as a main player, even if he needs to step down to achieve that status. I don’t really fault him for that.

  3. Ben, I didn’t know you knew him personally, funding him frustrating as a person.

    However, I do agree that we are losing a player who could have been so much more as a player for our club.

    He should have accepted the role that the manager wanted him for and made it his own.

    I’m really sad that, if he does leave, we will regret it, but not as much as he will by leaving The Arsenal.

    1. @Ken, when he came back from his loan at West- Bromwich ,MA and AMN had a clear the air discussion in which he agreed to play any position, he’d be asked to play.MA even said that he started with a clean slate.i don’t know what happened because he went out on loan again.

      1. Siamois, do you remember his performance in the cup final, when we beat Chelsea 2-1?

        They gave Aubemeyang MOM, but AMN was terrific and I believe he should have got that MOM trophy.

        But then he seemed to fall out of favour with MA and, like another player we won’t mention, was banished from the first team.

        I’m not sure what “wiping the slate clean” means to MA and Edu, but it’s clear he doesn’t feature in their future plans.

        1. Spot on, he was always a good player and still is, but he does have the tendency to switch off, but yo are right against Chelsea he was world-class, shame as I always thought he had it in him to succeed at Arsenal, I wish him the best, I have met him and he is truly a humble person

          1. He must have talent to be at Arsenal for so long tbh, but I think he lacks football intelligence, I remember him losing the ball and just throwing he’s hands up instead of trying to win the ball back.

            You can have bad games as all players do, but you have to work hard for the team if it’s not your day….again like Pepe seems a nice bloke and I hope he has a decent career elsewhere……

        2. I do remember,he was very good in those games.
          what does ‘a clean slate’ mean to MA?good question Ken! I’m pretty there’s been several players who had a clear the air talk with the manager,who went on to say that they were all starting from scratch but were moved on ,soon afterwards.

  4. Interesting that in the pre-amble about players to grace Arsenal over the years, second name mentioned, Nicolas Anelka… Le Sulk?

    1. Yes these days people talk about his talent without mentioning his flawed character which was the reason he never realised that talent.

  5. He has denied the assumption that he didn’t want to play as an RB. I have never seen any top EPL winger able to get past him

    He is pacey and very good at defending. But I guess his first touch and tactical understanding are just too inconsistent, similar to Pepe

    Unfortunately, he couldn’t impress in Serie A as well. I hope he’ll still get the chance to play for Arsenal

  6. A very solid article, as well as assessment of AMN. Too many times fans are quick to throw out the”he’s not good enough” label to a player. This usually happens when they’re compared to other players in the team, instead of actually looking at the player himself…
    I never fully understood the situation surrounding AMN. Fans constantly accused him of lack of concentration, yet he always put in a good shit, in whatever position he played. He was MOTM when he played in midfield last season, then was shipped out to Roma to rot on the bench there, when he could have been kept to help us get over the line. Go figure…
    All the best to the lad, wherever he lands.

    1. He certainly could have done with better toilet training!!!!?otherwise appreciate n agreement but some players believe they are more than their skill level allows .. suspect he was one of them …

    2. At the time he went to Roma they were looking average. He was better than the one who was ahead of him but he was off form so got benched. He did well here last season as a CM and there were one or two matches where he and Lokonga balled for us. I want us to keep him because he will be a good backup and can start some matches whether at CM or fullback depending on our game plan.

  7. Most of the ex players have suffered from the fans hand that I can’t begin to understand their crime.
    If it was just a normal criticism, it would have been understandable but no, it’s actually more than that.
    From xhaka, to elneny, nketia, Ozil, Auba, laca, and the list goes on.
    I am not saying some of them are Saint but they have been criticized a lot that you wouldn’t know the crime they committed.

    Some of them have been redeemed while some are still facing it till now.
    From toxic to a cultist, and the ones who act professional are called deadwood.

    1. Spot on!🎯👏
      That’s the thing I dislike on JA.this tribal/gangs…. mentality.if you’re not with us then you’re against us or if a player is no longer needed by MA,he has suddenly become a legitimate target for abuse, personal insults….with comments such as why is he still here?why is he not taking a pay cut?why is he not moving abroad? despite most of them having families,young kids at school…pure hypocrisy from some fans, expecting us to believe that in a similar situation, they’d uproot their families,forfeit millions that they are legally entitled.

      1. You will be surprised how many of them insults and abuse many of the players for getting high salary.
        It they know best what each players should be earning they will be working for all clubs by now.
        I agreed players are being paid high wages but we are not the one to determine how much they should earned or if they be offer such ridiculous money.
        Majority would wish they earn as much as them, but they will hate on them for earning heavily.
        The club think they deserved it and that is why they are paying them so ridiculous amount, club can definitely afford it, if they can’t they wouldn’t have given them such deal.
        That’s why players earn differently base on the club they represent.
        They should direct their anger to the club who offered them those lucrative contact.

        1. Kaay Where i much disagree with you is when you say we fans are not the ones to determine their wages.

          I say we AREthe ones and have a duty to call for massively decreased wages all round. No one else is doing it , not the football aurthorities, not theplayers, not their agents. I have a fundamentally different take from you on the role we fans MUST AND SHOULD PLAY IN ENACTING FAR REACHING CHANGE.
          As the swiftly aborted and corrupt idea of a European Super league showed to we thinkers, fans have far more power than some even imagine, when we band together . And esp when we band together against the fainthearts who think we have no power. Like you perhaps, ir seems ?!

          1. @jon you are right about the fans power, but the situation of salary is different from the super league.
            As the super league is visible and made known to the public, same thing can’t be said about players salary.
            You can’t name the salary for every player in our team which shows how much it’s hidden from the public. The football body and those who represents, Arsenal and the government along with the players and their agent are the only people with the true knowledge of how much a player earned.
            Their are too many bodies involved in players salary that fans opinion wouldn’t have make any slight changes.
            Barca with Messi was a prime example, they tried all possible things to renew his contact but they couldn’t even after agreeing for pay cut. La Liga made sure he wasn’t registered and the fans would have wanted him to stay including manager and the board.

            1. Kaay. Again, I much disagree! Changing ALL PREM SALARIES and drastically so, does not need to know what each player earns. Not at all.

              What fans need to do to enact real change is to band togther and boycot all games, until wages are made sensible and within sensible limits and do not, as now, hold fans to ranson to pay those wages, albeit indirectly. It is against all natural justice for all Prem players to be paid a kings ransomwhile ordinary fans struggle in many cases to pay basic bills.

              And MY view is that any fan at all who actually cares about this injustice , has a moral duty not to duck this issue, by pleading helplessness.

              Esp.when that is NOT THE CASE!

              1. @jon, let be clear, majority including me agreed that they earned way too much more than they should. But I believe we only have this view because we are not the one earning that much.
                Now what you explain here is you being wishful.
                As not all fans cares how much a player should and shouldn’t earn. And that Includes the managers.
                What you are asking for is reasonable but the possibility of it is very low.
                I have explained there are a lot of bodied being involved with what players earn and with your experience you should know better.
                fans can boycott, protests, and do many things but reducing players and managers salary is definitely not part of them.
                There’s a slogan many use to chants towards some of our player then. ” Sign the thing”. You can agree with me that majority doesn’t even know what is being offered to them before they chant it.
                Entertainment industry generates a lot of money. And athletes are among the beneficiaries. Ridiculous earning is not just being offered in football other sports and entertainment fall into it too.
                And non of those category has where fans dictate how much they should all earn and shouldn’t.
                Is like saying let customers decide on how much an influencer or advertisers should earn from a brand. Yeah they get paid way too much but
                we can’t decide that for the brand.
                We can boycott the product if they don’t use the right influencer or protest for many things, but how much they should earned from brand can’t be determined by us.
                However I am not rulling out the possibility of it in the future but now it’s very far from occuring.

                1. Kaay You disappoint me that you are so resigned to nothing ever changing re. the obscenity of Prem wages, all round.

                  Now, I agree with you that a good number of fans everywhere are also short sighted and simply don’t see the problem. It does not even enter their heads about the DANGER elite football is in, UNLESS this wage spiral is not only halted but turned round.

                  I have vision and someothewrs also have it but I see my moral duty as alerting those who either don’t see it, or worse still, don’t care anyway, about the mortal danger the elite level of football is in, IF we do nothing and just let things spiral

                  . You have surely noticed that the world economy is in an s alarmingstate and many people across our country, as in manyb other countries, can scarcely pay their basic living expenses, after the hike in fuel bills and so much else as well.

                  If you imagin e we can go on paying players more and more and still get full grounds my naive friend, then you have very little or no vision at all.

                  I suggest you wise up, educate yourself to what is happening all around ordinary fans , financially speaking, and join the VITAL quest to turn back the wages spiral.

                  Unless you care nothing for footballs future!

                  I DO and I for one will do my level best to alert more laid back folk to the massive problem that is close to spoiling elite football, unless we all change things. FUNDAMENTALLY TOO.

                  1. I am surprised you skipped the part were I mentioned I am not in support of them earning such a ridiculous amount but that’s just my opinion and my opinion won’t change anything as far as I am concerned.
                    But you sounded like your opinion is enough for this to change.
                    I respect your efforts and consistency on this topic but if you ask me, I think you are on the wrong platform to make the changes you are clamouring for.
                    Remember nobody here is paying the players wages directly, so a suggestion box to be drop on the Arsenal website or private email to them would be more efficient. I already said it that the anger should be directed to the board as you won’t expect anyone to turn down a high salary if being offered one.
                    Not a single comments here can change anything that has to do with Arsenal.
                    And if you are about making awareness,then you might have to be in every platform that talks about Arsenal by raising your awareness about the topic there, which will gain more support than a single platform.

              2. Jon,I have to agree with Kaay.i don’t think that we the fans,have any say or any impact when it comes to players wages.if Arsenal are willing to pay high wages,there is nothing we can do about it.also,if you want us to be competitive and sign the best players,it has to be done (sadly).

                1. That is the post of a ” I can do nothing about it , so I”LL SHUT MY EYES TO THE DAMAGE IT IS DOING” type of person. Shame on you and your timidity!

                  1. Fan power is in voting with their wallets. As long as the PL auction off football broadcast rights and bids are in the billions, those costs will be passed on to fans by the bidders.

                    It’s only by refusing to pay it that they can change this (don’t subscribe).

                    That’s why the Super League protests did their job – the money men realised that fans would work together across all the clubs to boycott the ESL, which means it will be starved of cash so it will fail.

                    1. And for those who don’t join the dots on their own…

                      The billions going to the clubs then has players’ agents demanding their share of it, that’s why wages are so high.

                      If the PL were getting 3 million instead of 3 billion a year… wages would be 1,000 times smaller.

      2. Four great posts gents – sums up a lot of “fans” on here who say they support the club, manager and players, then do the complete opposite.

    2. Cesc always said he hated playing at home because of the way the crowd got on their backs if they made mistakes, Redknapp when the manager always stated, frustrate Arsenal til halftime and the crowd will get on their backs and he was right, when you had moronic AFTV spouting their vile comments, no wonder, it is a toxic site from the hapless Robby right down to the rest of them. I am no fan of Xhaka, but I keep my comments on websites such as this, I would never dream of booing an Arsenal performance or player when playing badly. I only wish that vile AFTV could get closed down they really do believe they are genuine Arsenal fans, they are not they are parasites and vermin.

  8. I admit to not being an expert, but to me, he has alway looked like a huge talent, but lacking the last 5-10% of desire and commitment, which is needed to play for a top club.
    I think it is best for both him and Arsenal to part ways, and I wish him the best.

    1. Anders S, Seriously? “HUGE talent”?

      Or just a degree below what a club of our standing needs and NOW, thank in major part to Arteta, rightly demands.!

    1. It is an overly dramatic and frankly ridiculous article. He is 24 and still has the opportunity to play at another premier league team. He can still optimise what there is of his talent.
      The article is being praised by a number of individuals on the site which demonstrates a particularly insular perspective which continues to let the site down.

  9. Seriously what I have realised in my decades as an Arsenal supporter is to be as level headed as possible when assessing our so called “Academy / Youth prospects”.

    The amount of overhype we drape over them leads to disappointments in the end and people looking for excuses as to why so and so Youth player failed to make it. We normally end up asking the same old question, “WHAT WENT WRONG?”

    If a young player playe okay in the youth team, many start conflating that level with EPL level.. So and so is killing it in the youth team so that might mean he will hack it in the first team..

    The list is so long.
    J.E.T
    Eastmond
    Afobe
    Iwobi
    Dan Crawley
    Zelalem
    Denilson
    Akpom
    Reiss Nelson
    Frimpong
    AMN
    Willock
    Fran Merida
    Barazite
    Lansbury
    Balogan etc
    The list is too long..

    Now we have young Patinó, Azeez etc

    AMN is one of those young players that were being overly estimated since the age of 15.

    I think we just need to go easy on our over hype and over excitement when it comes to our academy players until they have actually done anything of note in the first team. Over expectations will 99% of the time lead to disappointment..

    1. Agree.

      There was money to be made selling some of that list at the right time to the likes of newly-promoted clubs, mid-table or relegation-threatened clubs.

      Keeping them until they get annoyed and leave for no money is not good business.

      They might have trouble persuading them to leave though – and if you keep selling them it gets harder to persuade them to come in the first place.

      When I compare them to the players Ajax brought through into their 1st team a couple of years ago, who reached the late stages of the CL… no comparison.

  10. If you look at AMN loan spells, he was deployed as CM. And he was unable to impress in any of them. There is doubt when he claims that he never insisted on playing as CM. Also he’s attitude is not what we need at the club at the moment. It’s really a shame that he allowed his career to suffer because of his ego.

  11. I’m not sure whether Ben wrote the title or not, but to whoever did – please stop over-dramatizing just to grab readers. Using such an inapplicable and emotive word as “tragic” for a guy who is fit and well and only half way through his career is ridiculous. Please reserve such extreme vocabulary for circumstances that merit it’s use.
    The actual article was excellent.

  12. Many Gooners including myself are of thopinion that AMN lacks determination and gives out an impression, probably deserved too, of not giving 100% concentration and resolve.

    As that is so IMO, I AM SURPRISED AND DISAPPOINTED THAT HE HAS REMAINED WITH US FOR SO LONG.

    IMO, WE BADLY NEED TO GET HIM GONE ELSEWHERE.

  13. Agree with you jon.
    That he has remained with us for so long is because with this type of fifty-fifty players clubs just wait for them to (maybe) ‘explode’ one day. Especially with Arsenal this takes a bit too long, it happened often even in Wenger’s era, Sir Alex Ferguson was far more clinical.
    I see Nketiah in the same situation but I want every Arsenal player to do well, of course.

  14. Let’s just say preseason is a time to stake your claim..did you see how he played? He was below average at best. Sambi on the other hand has more to his game compared to AMN. Ann does not have a single pass in him, lacks concentration, loses focus. The only thing he has is speed and I’m sorry that’s not good enough. He went to Roma yet he was often on the bench. He went to westbrom, he didn’t set the team on fire.if he had established himself as a rb, I bet he would be our rb. I like him as a person as he come across as a quiet boy but we need better. Same with pepe, they refused to up their game. I wish him best of luck as he’s sti young and has room to improve but sadly won’t be in Arsenal.

  15. I never saw him play in the youth leagues but before his leg break he had the makings of a decent midfielder. Even then he was mistake prone and a bit one dimensional in his play so we can’t even blame that as to why his development stalled. Unlike Xhaka he doesn’t even appear to get the basics right over hitting the ball more often than not.and a poor quality finisher to boot.Look, he can still make a career for himself with a manager who believes in him.. I’d say somewhere like Brighton, Forrest or Bournemouth would be his last chance. What he needs is plenty of game time and a manager who can help him regain his confidence.

  16. I would dare say that a typical weak mentality which some feel entitled and victimised. I’ve seen it many times. Usually from country of privileged like the UK. We’ve seen some of the greatest players emerged from the same environment but unfortunately some never learn. Natural order of things.

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