Just listened to the new Handbrake Off podcast and they had some really good things to say about him, and it seems he has always scored goals. Here are some extracts from a recent article on The Athletic by gunnerblog:
When Eddie Nketiah was released by Chelsea as a 14-year-old, Ian Gilmour immediately knew he had to alert Arsenal to his availability. The youth scout and coach had watched his son Charlie, then a highly-rated midfielder at the club’s Hale End academy, playing against the striker countless times.
“Eddie was one of the best at every game — him and Mason Mount,” Gilmour tells The Athletic. “It always seemed to be Marcus (McGuane) and Charlie for Arsenal against Mason, Eddie and Declan (Rice — also released by Chelsea at 14). It was those boys against each other every year. Eddie was comfortably one of the best — and for scoring goals, there was nobody better… Nobody.”
Two days after being released, Nketiah was approached by Arsenal. “I said to Roy Massey, who ran Arsenal’s academy at the time, ‘You know the boy?’. He said, ‘Yep.’ I said, ‘How would you feel about him coming in?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ Almost as soon as he walked in the door, that was it — he was signed. You could see right away how good the boy was.”
Born in England to Ghanaian parents, Nketiah emanates from the same south-easterly corner of London that gave Arsenal Ian Wright and David Rocastle. His first goals were scored in the garden with his football-obsessed father but it was at boys club Hillyfielders FC where his talent came to Chelsea’s attention.
He was with Chelsea from the age of nine up until 14. He was a prolific goalscorer even then, initially starting on the left wing before settling as a centre-forward. Outside of his club training, he would regularly play in the small caged pitch near his family home. “It was really hard playing in the cage,” he told Gaffer magazine. “There’s a lot of pride there and everyone wants to show how good they are and what they can do… there’s a lot of trash talk going on in the cage and you’ve just got to have thick skin to get through it and show how good you are.”
That thick skin has already served Nketiah well in his young career. It was a substantial blow when Chelsea let him go, seemingly harbouring concerns about his height. Tammy Abraham was in the same age group and Chelsea felt his frame made him a better bet. “There was an issue about the size,” recalls Gilmour. “But look, he had the power, he had the pace. Size doesn’t matter if you’ve got the power and the pace. And technically, he was so good.”
Asked about his young forward by The Athletic last night, Arteta could not have been more fulsome in his praise: “He’s been phenomenal. The work-rate that he puts in, the rhythm that goes into his pressing, his understanding of the game — every time, when to come, when to go in behind — and he’s always in front of goal and ready to score.”
The remainder of the season represents a huge opportunity for Nketiah. He has started the last two Premier League games and with question marks over the form of Alexandre Lacazette and the future of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, there’s a chance to force his way into Arteta’s thinking for next season.
The Spaniard’s praise is unlikely to go to his head. Speak to anyone who knows Nketiah and they’ll almost certainly mention his enduring humility. He has not forgotten where he came from, nor those who have helped him along the way. Earlier this season, he was due to visit Hillyfielders, only postponing after being called up for England under-21 duty. When Gilmour Snr opened his academy in Brighton, Nketiah came down to open it.
“With some kids the money goes to their heads, but him — no chance,” says Gilmour. “The family are too good. They are so so behind him. They’re not pushy. They just sit back and let the boy do what he wants… within reason! The sister is well on it too — she knows her football in and out!”
He’s lucky to have his family around him — and his friends, too. When Nketiah sloped back to the Arsenal bus at Fratton Park, he did so flanked by Willock and Nelson. Even the players who’ve taken a different path, like Gilmour and Dasilva, are never really that far away.