A young prospect is signing on as a scholar at Arsenal. Pen in hand and grinning. Next to him, the 6’6” academy manager is also grinning, pleased with the first signing of his career. That man is Per Mertesacker and this scene will happen later in 2018.
#Repost @p_mertesacker ・・・ Dear fans and friends, clear decisions were always very important to me. I felt like that after World Cup 2014 and I take such a decision now again. From autumn 2018 onwards I will be heading up the Arsenal Academy as the “Head of Academy”. Which means at the same time that the upcoming season will be my last one as a player. I am delighted about this future challenge and job at the club who means so much to me. Pattensen, Hannover, Bremen, Arsenal London – these places and clubs formed me and made me the player and person I am today. It is important to me to pass on these experiences and values to young players in the future. But for the next months my clear focus is to give everything as a player for the club. I am looking forward to the things lying ahead of us, short- mid- and longterm. #COYG Yours Per /// Liebe Fans und Freunde, klare Entscheidungen waren mir immer sehr wichtig. Das war 2014 nach dem WM Titel der Fall, so ist es auch jetzt. Ab Herbst 2018 werde ich die Leitung der Nachwuchsabteilung bei Arsenal als "Head of Academy“ übernehmen. Dies beinhaltet auch, dass ich jetzt in meine letzte Saison als Spieler gehe. Ich freue mich enorm über die neue Aufgabe bei dem Verein, dem ich viel zu verdanken habe und der mir sehr an’s Herz gewachsen ist. Pattensen, Hannover, Bremen, London – diese Stationen haben mich geprägt. Mir ist es ein großes Anliegen, diese Erfahrungen zu teilen. Für die kommenden Monate liegt mein Fokus aber ganz klar auf meiner Aufgabe als Spieler. Ich werde alles für den Verein auf dem Platz einbringen. Ich spüre große Vorfreude auf alles, was kurz- und mittelfristig auf mich wartet. #COYG Euer Per
The announcement came two days after the high profile signing of Alexandre Lacazette and was met with as much enthusiasm by fans. It may seem odd to appoint someone who has yet to finish a distinguished playing career with zero knowledge of running an academy, however, looking back at the BFG’s (Big Friendly/F***ing German) passage in North London, the case in favor of the titanesque defender is strengthened.
Signed during the infamous trolley dash of summer 2011, Mertesacker was brought in to stabilize a team that had sold influential components in Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Donning the formers number 4 shirt, the BFG made his debut in a home game against Swansea.
Arsenal hadn’t started the season well, a single point from three games which included an 8-2 deflowering at Old Trafford formed the backdrop of a nervous afternoon at the Emirates. The sight of Mertesacker getting out jumped by Danny Graham didn’t auger well for proceedings. Like the team, he wasn’t convincing but squeaked out a 1-0 win. People were right to identify the German’s head as his strong point, but it was the interior not the exterior.
A meticulous reader of the game, Mertesacker combines excellent positioning and interceptions to outsmart his opponent. His economic use of the ball sees him average above 90% pass completion rates, making him the modern defender’s primer. A nasty ankle twist at Sunderland ended his first season three months early, but it did not stop him from having a solid second season.
They say opposites attract, in the case of Laurent Koscielny and Mertesacker this rings true. The Frenchman is a high risk proactive marker of the ball. The Germans measured approach serves as his colleagues safety net thus allowing him to be even rasher! Not only did he establish himself in central defense, he also captained the side in a FA Cup tie at Brighton and headed in his first goal against Tottenham Hotspur, a sure way to endear yourself to the red half of North London.
It also became apparent that the BFG (Not the explicit version!) was just that, always putting himself at the service of others on and off the pitch, such is his standing in the dressing room, he is charged with collecting fines. The thought of Alexis Sanchez storming out of training and the BFG shouting “That’ll be 1000 pounds mate!” is a hilarious possibility!
Mertesacker can also be tough when the situation requires it, the sight of him giving Mesut Ozil a verbal dressing down for not acknowledging the traveling fans after a loss at Manchester City, made him the exception to the popular idea that: modern footballers just care about the money.
Perhaps it was all of this that was going through Arsene Wenger’s mind when he appointed the World Cup winner as club captain in 2016. Sadly he missed most of the season with a knee injury and due to competition for places he only made two appearances: In the last league match against Everton and the FA Cup final.
Suffice to say his contribution was more than what the majority had delivered in a lackluster season for the club. A fifth placed finish was a new low for a club equipped to win the league, but held back by a questionable mentality and complacent board. The cup final with Chelsea was a chance to salvage some pride, a 2-1 win did just that.
Everyone was in agreement that Mertesacker was superb with some calling his performance one of the greatest in the competitions history. His in match mentoring of young partner Rob Holding and their good cop/bad cop routine on Diego Costa will live long in the memory.
In a years time, after his training kit has been swapped for a tracksuit with “PM” emblazoned on the chest, the task awaiting the German is huge: Poor results, questionable recruitment and defensive ineptitude blight most youth teams especially the under-23s. But just like Mertesacker the player you expect Mertesacker the manager to make sensible decisions with a high success rate.