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Arsenal are well known for their academy pathway, which has produced some brilliant players over the past few years, but every club drops the ball sometimes.
Talent identification is an extremely important but extremely difficult skill which football clubs rely upon to develop their own players, rather than spending huge amounts of money on other clubs’. Every player who comes through an academy was scouted at some point and one of the methods used are trials.
Budding young players are invited to take part in matches to assess their ability, while some are taken on for a week or two for a closer look in training. Even once they’ve been viewed up close, the majority are discarded, such is the brutal nature of elite football.
Arsenal are better than most at the art of scouting and player development, but they’ve still let some surprising names slip through the net. Here are six of them.
READ MORE: 8 stars you didn't know had trials at other clubs – including Steven Gerrard with Man Utd
“Completely average". That wasArsene Wenger’s verdictafter the younger Toure brother started as a trialist in a 0-0 draw with Barnet. It was the summer of 2003 and the midfielder was aiming to impress during a friendly, which also featured Gael Clichy.
Toure arrived from Belgian partner club KSK Beveren, a year after Kolo Toure had earned himself a contract in north London, but it did not go his way. He started in midfield before pushing forward in the second half – all to no avail.
Speaking several years later, Wenger explained why Arsenal didn’t sign him: "Yaya Toure is a top-class player. We knew that at the time. The only problem was to fix him into a position because he can play everywhere. He can play centre-back, as a second striker, as a midfielder and for a long-time we didn't know where to play him."
Rakitic won four La Liga titles, four Copa del Reys and the Champions League with Barcelona – but his career could have gone very differently. Back in 2004, the Croatian midfielder was at Arsenal, playing alongside the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Fabrice Muamba and Jay Simpson to try and earn a contract.
Back then Rakitic was 16 years old and at Swiss club Basel. The fact he was in north London that summer was unknown until 2018, when former Arsenal academy player Les Thompson posted a team-sheet from the match against Ajax on Twitter.
Naismith was 19 years old and playing for Kilmarnock when Arsenal came calling in 2006. He toldevertonfc.comtwo years ago: “I was at Kilmarnock on £500 a week and half-thinking I’d be going down there to train with the reserves.
“I remember the kit man getting me from reception and and taking me to the dressing room. I walked through and there was Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott, Ashley Cole – and I am this wee guy from Kilmarnock. Not anywhere near that level or involved in that lifestyle.
“There were these players from around the world and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God’.”
Naismith was starstruck at the quality of Arsenal’s players and facilities, but didn’t want to move from Scotland to London. “I was just amazed with it all,” he added. “Kilmarnock did not have a training ground and Arsenal’s facilities were second to none. But I thought, ‘I am not moving away from home’.”
HAVE YOUR SAY! Which one of these players would have made the biggest impact at Arsenal? Comment below.
Hannibal is now established as one of United’s next cabs off the rank, but he could easily have joined Arsenal instead. The Moroccan midfielder was only 13 and at France’s prestigious Clairefontaine academy when Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and United were taking a look at his ability.
Arsenal had been scouting Hannibal from the age of 11 and had him over for a trial, but reports at the time which said they’d agreed to sign him when he turned 16 were dismissed by his father. Lofti Mejbri told Le Parisien: “That’s false. Arsenal is the only club where Hannibal had a trial, but we didn’t sign anything. We’re free, and we will be until he finishes his time at Clairefontaine.”
Gullit was invited to Arsenal in the early 1980s when he was still playing for Harlem, where he made his debut aged just 16, in the Netherlands. He impressed – naturally – but was turned down by both the Gunners and Ipswich Town, due to the money involved.
As manager then-Arsenal boss Terry Neill explained at the time, they couldn't justify the £300,000 price tag. "Every manager has a skeleton in his cupboard and Gullit is certainly mine," Neill, who managed the club between 1976 and 1983, later admitted.
Redmayne’s name would likely never have crossed Wenger’s mind had it not been for his recenteye-catching penalty shoot-out heroicsin helping Australia qualify for the World Cup. But the dancy Aussie goalkeeper being in the newsprompted a confessionfrom the former Arsenal manager.
Redmayne was actually on trial with Arsenal 12 years ago, spending a fortnight with the Gunners, before they opted to sign a 15-year-old Wojciech Szczesny instead. "I don't remember, I must say it's been such a long time that I've been at Arsenal that I don't remember all the trialists. But if he was with us, we made a mistake," Wenger said after Australia’s win over Peru.
Shea is probably best remembered in England for an underwhelming spell with Stoke City, but back in November 2011 he was one of the hottest young prospects in the world, having taken MLS by storm. He’d made his professional debut aged 18 and just scored 11 goals for Dallas in a season.
Following advice from USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann, he was invited to train with Arsenal under Wenger for a month. Asked why he was making the move, Shea explained: “To see how he does things… he [Wenger] has had so many young players over the years and turned them into who they became, that experience will be pretty cool.”
He added: “Jurgen’s been pushing and wanting us to train in Europe in the off-season and it is good to get that experience. It's just strictly training and get that experience and hopefully raise my game to another level. I think, obviously I am happy where I am, but I want to, eventually when the time is right, try it out and give it a shot.”
Nothing came of the stint at Arsenal and after another year at Dallas, Shea joined Stoke, where he was sent out on loan to Barnsley and Birmingham. He moved back to MLS in 2015 and has stayed there ever since – he now plays for David Beckham’s Inter Miami franchise.
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