There are many articles in the press and on Arsenal sites correctly and understandably lauding the emergence and the form of Francis Coquelin. This is hardly surprising given the fairy tale aspect of his recent story being recalled in desperation from a largely uninspiring loan at then Championship strugglers Charlton. Although I am told he was one of the few positives and his commitment to their cause exemplary. Those who claim to have seen it coming are presumably exaggerating or liars, as most of us, along it would appear with our manager had given up on young Francis. A future in North London with a shiny new contract must have been the furthest thing from the player’s mind in January.
His display against Fellaini and United was imperious and will I hope have banished from his mind the one below par performance since his return, when he struggled against Monaco – Let’s face it he was not alone that evening! His resurgence has been made me stop pining for Morgan and brought to mind a very early blog I wrote before I even had this site. Having seen him dominant at DM v Shrewsbury and then excel at left back in the NLD, I as many others thought we had a real player on our hands. Now it seems I was correct but I had seen little evidence since and I am not claiming to have always believed he was the answer. Indeed I would never have suspected that he would even be an Arsenal player beyond June. Football truly is an amazing game and never ceases to surprise us but one thing that will never change and |I have witness first hand, being around various professional academies is that talent alone without dedication, hard work and self belief will never produce a professional footballer. The non-league and lower leagues are filled with players who never made it and many will have the talent but not the work ethic to go with it.
It is this thought that has been in my head for the last week and inspired me to do some research. Many bemoan the lack of home grown talent coming though our academy and others and perhaps blame either the foreign influx or our own set up. Of course Arsenal are not alone in the upper echelons and perhaps Southampton is the exception to the rule in the EPL. I just thought I would use the Coquelin inspiration to illustrate just how difficult it is to make the leap from promising youngster to full time regular first team professional. As an aside my son left AFC Bournemouth, then of League 1 aged 16. 9 of his peers received scholarships in 2010 – Only 2 of them have played any 1st team football and only one this season in the League Cup.
So it is nigh on impossible to make the grade in the Championship and yet still we criticise our own academy for its lack of production. So let’s return to where I first picked up on Francis Coquelin and wrote about him. He jumped to my attention when he starred for France in the 2011 Under20 World Cup where he played all bar one game for his national side on a run to the Semi-Finals, showing superb discipline anchoring the midfield without a single yellow card. Being 19/20 you would assume that a side of young professionals reaching the final 4 in the World against their peers would all be starring for top sides across Europe or in France and perhaps even be the backbone, now aaged 23/24 of Deschamps French National squad.
Here is the 22 best players in their respective positions as selected by Francis Smerecki who has been involved in the National Youth set up in France since 2004, from the successful WC campaign:
Peirrick Cros – Goal Keeper, then at Sochaux where he managed just 20 Ligue 1 starts in 4 years. Now having been released is at minor Belgium side Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz where has yet to feature.
Loik Nego – A right sided defender who after starring was snapped up by Roma where in 2 years he failed to make a league appearance. He was signed by Charlton after a year in the wilderness and they have loaned him to Ujpest in Hungary for a season where he again is failing to make an impact.
Thomas Fontaine –A defender who never made the Lyon first team despite racking up over 70 B tea games. He was sold to Tours in Ligue 2 in 2012 and has managed 8 games in 3 years. Frankly I am not even sure if he is still a professional.
Florian Lejeune – This central shone at the U20 WC and it earned him a moved to Villarreal in Spain where he mustered and fabulous 5 games in 3 season before a loan to first Brest ad now Girona. Since arriving at Girona in the summer of 2014 he has not make a start.
Sebastian Faure –A defender who grew up at Lyon where he made 1 appearance before in 2012 he was persuaded by Ally McCoist to join his Rangers revolution in Scotland. 2 and a half years and 48 appearances later Faure is still there.
Clement Grenier – Our first success story. The predominantly right sided midfielder had notched up close to 100 senior games at Lyon now and was linked to Wenger and Arsenal. He has made the transition to full international with 5 caps to his name.
Gael Kakuta – Snapped up by Chelsea in a hail of publicity at 16, this left midfielder has now had 6 loans from Stamford Bridge and none have been a huge success. It is arguable that it has taken him until this season at Royal Vallacano to actually look as if he might fulfil his potential but jury still out.
Guieda Fofana – Described as the new Vieira in France at a very young aged playing at Le Havre this abrasive central midfielder earned a big money moved to Lyon after the Summer WC. In the 3 and a half seasons there he has accumulated only 70 appearances although he was established ahead of a serious ankle injury and surgery in March 2014.
Yannis Tafer – A prolific goal scorer as a Youth International Tafer has spent the last three years in Switzerland at Lausanne and now St Galen. Fair to say he has not set the footballing world alight.
Gilles Sunu – Along with Coquelin at the time of the 2011 U20 tournament Sunu was a promising Gunner striker. After the WC was concluded he converted his loan to Lorient to a permanent 4 year contract. With only 6 goals in 60 plus games over 4 year I think he has dropped to Evian in Ligue 2.
Antoine Griezmann – Another genuine success that needs no introduction to Gunners, as we were heavily linked to the winger last year. After a fabulous 2013/4 for Sociedad he earned a move to the Spanish Champions Athletico Madrid where he has continued to shine and score a plenty.
Kalidou Koulibaly – This versatile centre back/defender played for 2 years in Genk after leaving Metz in 2012. He was established at that level and was signed by Napoli in the summer of 2014 where is sparingly used.
Timothée Kolodziejczak – This defender struggled to step up to the first team at Lyon and was sold to Nice in 2012 where he has 2 successful years. He was sold to Sevilla last summer where he has failed to make an impression featuring on just 7 occasions.
Lionel Carole –A left back that was scouted at the tournament by Benfica who took him in the summer of 2011 to Portugal from Nantes. In 2 years he managed only 6 first team outings and is now playing as a journeyman pro for Troyes in France’s second tier.
Lucas Veronese – A keeper who has mustered only 8 professional starts at Nice and Istres before a moved to Amiens in 2014 where he has played a huge 14 games. Give it up mate!
Cédric Bakambu – Bakambu has never quite converted his youth form to top flight football. He scored 18 in 90 games for Sochaux in Ligue 1. He moved to the Super Lig in Turkey with Bursaspor where he is in and out of the first team.
Maxime Colin – After 4 years plying his trade as a right back in France’s Ligue 2 Colin has moved to Anderlecht in Belgium where has yet to feature.
Alexandre Lacazette – Lacazette was in the Lyon side as a teenager and now in his 5 season in the first team ha has amassed 131 games and 47 goals. This season he has scored 21 in 24 in the league and he is being linked to many Premier League teams, including Arsenal. He now has 5 full caps for France.
Enzo Reale – A midfielder who was loaned to Boulogne from Lyon in 11/12 and then was sold to Lorient where he has managed on 22 first team games, before being loaned to Avignon where he cannot even get a game.
Jonathan Ligali – The third choice keeper at the tournament was Montpelier’s second choice and made just 2 appearances in their first team. Not sure if he is still there to be honest.
FRANCIS COQUELIN – After a torturous few seasons with loans to Lorient and Freiburg it appears that Francis has finally made the grade at the Arsenal. He joined in reality only 3 others from the cream of France’s talent at the Under 20 World Cup of 2011 to be established in the first team in 2015 of a top flight side and the only one in the Premier League.
So for those who query our academy and those of other Premiership sides please be assured we are not alone. Aged 19/20 the 21 players above were the very best players of their age in France. The cream of the talent from a country renown for bringing through technically gifted footballers that took their side to the Semi Finals of the World Cup. Only 3 of the 22 have gone on to fulfil their potential and play for France at full international level.
Could Coquelin become the fourth? He has stern competition in the central midfield area where France are extremely strong but in reality this is the player’s loss and Arsenal’s gain. In essence from 2011-14 we had an international quality central midfielder in Mikel Arteta prolonging his career by resting when his colleagues disappeared on International duty. In Coquelin we may just have the same again and right now I am not complaining.
So hat’s off to Francis Coquelin who never gave up, worked hard and when finally given his chance took it firmly with both hand’s shouting “If you want the shirt back off me you have a fight on your hands!” – And that includes potential new signings Morgan S!
Until next time, thanks for reading.
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