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Who’s going to be the next Nesta?

Tuesday saw Arsenal took on Nagoya Grampus Eight. Treading on his old turf was Arsene Wenger. Technically speaking it wasn’t exactly his old turf because the stadium wasn’t there when Wenger was still in Japan, managing the club. It looks to be a very nice looking stadium and the players’ comments afterwards will attest to that. We continued our winning run in the pre season with a comfortable 3-1 win over NGE.

It goes without saying that the best moment of the match was Mikel Arteta’s action. The vice captain was magnanimous in giving the penalty chance to Ryo Miyaichi to score on his first game back home. The young lad was received a warm welcome from his adoring countrymen but more than most, would be very appreciative of what Arteta did for him. To say that from now onwards, Miyaichi will jump through walls for him, will be an understatement.

The other interesting bit that came out of the match was Gedion Zelalem. The boy has now appeared in every single one of Arsenal’s 3 friendlies thus far, completing the entire 2nd half in all of them. Yes, he looks frail and will need to spend a lot of time in the gym to build himself up. But there’s no denying that we have once again a prodigy in our hands .

What we’ve seen from him thus far (or at least I have seen) is that we have a 16 year old with the kind of vision that players dream of. The vision to be able see the movement of a team mate and have the ability to make the pass to that team mate. The two doesn’t always come hand in hand. Seeing the run and being able to pick out the right pass, are mutually exclusive.

Comparison has been made with existing and former players. One name that continues to come out was Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard shone at the same age and it is easy to understand why the two names were put together. If we are to take into account what Zelalem has done in this tour as the only guideline, it is no exaggeration that he has earned and deserved that comparison. High praise indeed, but if one sees the way Zelalem sees the game, one will understand.

It strikes me that if Zelalem fulfill his destiny (I’m guessing it’s his destiny), he will another midfield prodigy that we’ve got coming through the academy. Yeah, yeah I know he didn’t join us when he was 12, a barometer some used to determine whether a player comes through the academy or not. Regardless of the semantics, as it stands, we do have a 16 year old whose talents is obvious even to the likes of a former prodigy in Jack Wilshere.

Fabregas, Wilshere and Zelalem all play in the midfield. Where are the prodigies from other areas of the pitch? One could put a solid argument for Wojciech Szczesny as a prodigy for the goalkeeping department but that’s it. If we look across Europe, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon are the two from recent times who can be classified as goalkeeping prodigies, as both started playing regularly at the age of 17.

From the attacking point of view, there are plenty of examples of kids at the age of 16 – 18 who have already matched the qualities of their seniors and play consistently every week. Ronaldo at Cruzeiro, Rooney at Everton, Benzema at Lyon and Messi at Barcelona are just a few examples of those who are promoted young because they have already become good enough for the first team.

Question is, why are there so few defenders who can be classified in the same category? Is it because defenders are more disciplined and players don’t find that discipline until a much older age? Or is it because the focus of the game naturally veers to an offensive point of view, that the defensive qualities are often overlooked?

Pre 2000, you could certainly look at the likes of Maldini at Milan, Nesta at Lazio or Ferdinand at West Ham as those defenders who have shone through at the same age bracket of 16 – 18. Post 2000 and I could only think of one defender who matches the same breakthrough. Raphael Varane could be an exception in a world of football that has forgotten how important it is to build a successful defence.

If you could think of any other, feel free to let me know.