For the time being, we will catch up with our Gunners to find out more about the journey to our academy. This week, it’s Omari Benjamin who talks about how he’s progressed through the ranks, steps under the dozen and heading into Tottenham ahead of the season.
I loved football when I was young – I remember kicking whatever was in the house. My father was very into football so growing up, I would watch it on TV with him, and we watched a lot of Arsenal games together.
As most young kids do, I started playing football outside in my local area and one of my dads football team called Everett Rovers in Watford. He took me there, and I finally signed with them for six years. Two years later I joined Colney Colts in London. I played them every week until I was about 12 years old and finally, I started to be invited to tryouts with some professional teams.
Funnily enough, when I was there, Seb Ferdinand and Alexei Rojas were also part of the team, and it was cool to see that we were all signed around Arsenal at the same time. While at London Colney Colts, the Arsenal scouts would regularly attend our games and talk to us and give us advice on what we could do to improve our game. After these interviews I elaborated on what they told me and used in the games.
Eventually, this paid off and I was invited to play a trial match at Hale End. In that game I scored two goals – one of which was from the halfway line with my weaker foot. You can imagine how excited I was afterwards! After that game, my trial was extended for six weeks.
I was a bit nervous because I never had to train with anyone in the theater before the first game for Arsenal. The first time the young men met was on the day of the game against West Brom at the Hale End. Despite this, he continued to be fit and prone to lacerations. I was so happy and the boys were just as happy as I was – what a perfect way to start my case!
Soon I officially signed for Arsenal, which I felt very strongly about, but this was where I started the real work, because I wanted to make sure that I stayed here and progressed. I couldn’t wait to get started and when I first arrived at Hale as a Arsenal player, it was how I envisioned it: it was a friendly and comforting environment. The coaches and players were super kind to me and I always felt like they had my best interest at heart.
“I love soft goals – it’s a skill I had when I was young and which never left me”
One of the highlights of my time at Hale End was when I played for the under-16 team, only being 14. It was a challenge but I played well in the game and that’s something I’m going to have to get used to. if I want to succeed at the club.
The transition from Hale End to London Colney as an under-18 vehicle was enjoyable but also a tiring one. The main difference is that we train every day at London Colney, whereas at Hale End we only train twice a week in the evenings. It’s a useful feeling, because it makes you prepare for what life is like as a professional football player. Although it can be intense, I love it, I’m living my dream, and I love waking up and going to play football. Plus if I want to make the top, I have to do the buzz.
One of my favorite days at the club was scoring a hat-trick in the north London derby against Tottenham this season! Everyone was so pumped up before the game, you could tell from our warm-up that we were very used, and when Jack Wilshere understood the competition he knew we were ready for battle. We also received a message from Cesc Fabregas, who highlighted the importance of the fixture.
We all wanted to win so badly and we wanted to score three goals to contribute to our personal highlight. It happened so quickly because all my goals were in the first half, but it was brilliant. I looked back a few times, to say the least!
The original team was great with us and they talk to us often. For example, when I was once in the ice bath, Bukayo Saka took the time to talk to me, and when I was on the bench in Tottenham, he put his goal in his history and rushed me, which was cool. When I saw Hale end up graduating like Bukayo, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe, their journeys are so inspiring and encouraging that I believe I can follow a similar path to them playing in the first team regularly.
I have a very mixed family. I now play for Wales under-18s as my father was born there and went to London when he was a teenager, but I also called Barbados and Jamaica through my grandparents, and England. As I proceed, my speech attacks the playfulness, but the players delight in delighting the audience with their striking skill. I love soft goals – it’s a skill I had when I was young and it never left me.
I would like to improve some parts to my game, such as story chain and parts no. Let them throw 10 Working with Jack, I know my game has improved massively as he is a great coach and you can believe what he says because he has played at the highest level for Arsenal and England. Sometimes it combines with our wrestling games and it’s always fun.
My goal for this season is to break through the training to the sub-21 team and score some goals in the Premier League 2. By doing this I hope to develop my game and finally train with the first team for a session or two.
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