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Arsenal Eyes American Midfielder Charles Renken


The recent press reports linking Arsenal and other Premier League clubs to 14 year old  attacking midfielder Charles Renken whose sterling play for the US U-17 team in the Bradenton Invitational last year caught many eyes is terrifying from my perspective as an American football fan. Despite the success Arsenal has had in developing young footballers, Americans have had nothing but trouble when they go to England at a young age while enjoying relative success when going to continental clubs. This is not meant to knock English football. However the evidence is clear at least when related to players from this part of the world that they will only enjoy success in the British game when they enter the Premier League or SPL as finished articles.

I get annoyed when I hear fans of the US Soccer program state that we need to put more young players in the English Premier League. Yes, we need to put more players in Europe, but no we do not have to put more young, developing players in the Premier League. Take the list of players who have gone to Premier League clubs from the US at a young age: Jovan Kirovski, John Thorrington, Frank Simek, Zac Whitebread ,Kenny Cooper, Kyle Davies, Eric Licaj and Jonathan Spector and contrast that with the list of players who have gone to Holland or Germany at a young age: John O’Brien, Gregg Berhalter, DaMarcus Beasley, Cory Gibbs, Steve Cherundolo, Chad Deering, Robbie Rogers and Michael Bradley. It has been accurately pointed out to me in defense of English Football that some teen players who showed raw potential in Africa or Eastern Europe have dramatically improved once getting to England: That very well may be the case but for American players whose early training in the United States lacks the type of technical skill emphasis of other points on the globe, going to the continent seems to be a more reasonable long term bet for a player’s development than going to England. In England many pundits, including Martin Samuel of the Times indicate that English academies teaching of technique and ball skills is not up to the same standard as it is on the continent. (Samuel wrote a column after England’s 2-0 loss to Croatia in Zagreb during Euro 2008 Qualifying about this topic and was pillaged as you would expect by the Times online readers, but his point hit home with me based on the experiences of American players on both the continent and England.)

Frank Simek signed with Arsenal at 14, the same age and he now remains an outsider in the US player pool struggling for recognition on a second division side in his twenties. This pattern has played out with many of the other Americans I listed above who went to England as teens to develop their footballing skills. On the other hand the list of youngsters who went to continental clubs or academies is more impressive and dare I say has been much more impactful on the fortunes of the US National Team program.

Charles Renken is a special player. He has the potential to be a similar, even complimentary player to Freddy Adu a few years down the road in the US setup. Along with Stefan Jerome and Carlos Martinez he represents part of an attacking trio that could lead to US to glory in upcoming youth world cups. However, all of this is predicated on Renkin making the right move following his time at the US Soccer’s Academy in Bradenton and continuing his impressive growth as a young player.

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  1. sebastien

    March 23, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    here is my email address

  2. sebastien

    March 23, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    hi DEAR,
    well i’m a young boy of 18 in cameroon please i really like football and i want to be a footballer in future but here is my problem,i don’t have a person to sponsor me so i just want to pleade that you should help sponsor me and take me as your son please i’m a good boy,i will always be your son for the rest of my live because i have never had a father in my life please thanks may GOd bless you bye

  3. lsmetana

    September 24, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Yes you're quite right. What was I thinking? We all know that money solves everything in life…thank you for that flash of brilliance Jorge.

  4. Jorge

    September 24, 2008 at 12:28 am

    your an idiot! At 14 he will get paid more than you ever will………….

  5. American Gooner

    September 23, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Oh, and always be skeptical of comments that use terms like “motherland.” There's nothing stopping Renken from putting on a Zambia shirt now, is there?

  6. American Gooner

    September 23, 2008 at 8:28 am

    This is the same crap anti-English article that has been making the rounds. Arsenal's player development program is one of the top in the world. The signs of this is how many Arsenal players are plying their trade in the top two divisions in England, not to mention elsewhere (Italy for one).

    The name-dropping is just cherry-picking. Beasley spent his younger years with the Chicago Fire. PSV no more “developed” him than Man U developed Wayne Rooney. Of all the Holland-developed players mentioned, only O'Brien and Bradley can be said to have significant development there and even Bradley has only spend a year or two in Holland, having been with NY before that… and O'Brien, who did come up through the Ajax ranks, unfortunately had injuries ruin his career, so we'll never know what his potential would have been, but he never played for a club bigger than Ajax.

    Meanwhile, Rogers, who I'll agree has potential, is in Columbus. Berhalter and Deering aren't exactly sterling examples to fall back on. Kirovski had a more regular run out for a time that Deering in the MNT.

    Anyway, Renken seems set on joining Arsenal, so the verdict will be handed down in a few years, regardless of the one-sided biases in this article. I predict that if Renken sticks it out, he'll come away a stronger player. Potential is always difficult to determine, but the Arsenal system will give him time and experience in a world-class environment.

  7. otieye

    September 20, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Charles will go back and play for his native Zambia. All he neded was a way out in life not manipulation into running away from his motherland.

  8. ihuy01

    September 19, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Joe and Shakira. A large majority of the premier league clubs in England have very strong academy systems. I think it's a cultural thing above all the other issues. Wenger and others have continually said that the coaching and methods used are barely different to those on the continent or in south america. The fact is culturally these places are different. I would agree clubs and academies at the lower level is more of an issue. Add to add to that, i think there is legislation in place that doesnt allow a child to attend a club for training purposes in an area other than where he lives (it may have changed). None the less the Manchester United, Arsenal and others have encouraged ball work in a bid to improve the technique of their academy youngsters. Parents sign 'silence contracts' whereby when attending training they cannot yell or scream at their child..of course this is a bid to address 'lump the ball up the field' and 'your child is a hog' mentality. I would like to also say that technique is built up at a very young football age which is the main argument why players of developing football countries want to leave early.

    Bear with me but i have always thought there are similarities between USA and Australia in terms of football. Let me preface this by saying football similarly to in the USA i think attracts a lot of young footballers despite being a second rate sport (though this is changing dramatically). Long we have produced the physical type of footballer, very much different to other developing football countries who tend to lack organisation but have a technical basis to their style. I think we have similarities to the African footballers who (for all intensive purposes) have been associated with the physical side but you could argue have a good balance with technique these days.

    Australia has gone the dutch root in terms of our football style. Albeit success at the NT level has alluded the oranje, their methods in the style of play is conducive for the development of technical players. We have a dutch coach and a dutch technical director. We have moved away from the mixed system in place five or so years ago. Youngsters are encouraged to go to holland. I think this has helped greatly, football played at youth level translates to NT level. However i would like to emphasize the fact that Harry Kewell, Luke Wilkshire and Carney, all in the squad for Australia went through the English football system. Kewell Australia's greatest export and at one time was the hottest property in european football and our most technically gifted player ever has played in England all his life until this latest move. Carney who is dribbling abilities is his greatest strength came through everton i believe. And Wilkshire, Hiddink said he had the best technical skills of all the Australian players developed at Boro. Albeit Wilkshire has moved to Holland and subsequently earned a big money move to Russia, England is not a waste ground for talent.

    If you ask me i would send your young and developing player to France or Italy. The French system in the 20 years or so has been churning out talent which has reflected success at senior level football. When it's said and done the purpose of NT football is to win the world cup. Albeit Spain and Holland have incredible records of developing skilled footballers they have not translated and do not compare to France or Italy in terms of senior success.

    Finally…when it's all said and done, nothing is as important as first team football…you have to go a place where you have a legitimate chance…it's all about timing of your move….

  9. Shakira Graham

    September 19, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    If he goes anywhere outside the US, he should go to Holland where they know how to develop young players in all aspects of the game. England is the last place he should go, his talent will be wasted there. Keep him here till he is 16 and then send him to Holland to hone his skills there and he will do just fine.

  10. Joe

    September 19, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Renken should be kept away from england at all costs.

    He's already ahead of where Adu was at this age. Letting him go to a country that has the worst player development system in the big european leagues is a sure fire way to ruin him.

    I'd prefer he end up at a PSV or Ajax personally.

  11. lsmetana

    September 19, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Moving underage players from their home countries has to stop. It's ridiculous and unnecessary and borders on human trafficking. Why buy a 14-year-old? So you can sell him a few years later for a profit? For the few underage players that do stick around and make it into the senior squad of the club that buys them up initially, there are many others that end up regressing in their development or are just sold on to another club.

    It can also be damanging to the player's social development because they are away from their normal support structures and environment (i.e. falling in with bad influences away from the game). UEFA has been looking at restricting this type of movement and I think it's a good idea to have it examined in more detail.

  12. eplnfl

    September 18, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Kartik: In general I have formed the opinion that most English youth academies are not suited to the talented American player. Arsenal maybe one of the better places for a talent rich young American player. The Gunner's style of play is suited to the American player who wants a game that is more free-flowing and attacking and less ball control.

    My college basketball coach was able to develop from limited talent good teams. When he had talent rich players he won a lot of games but couldn't win the big one. My feeling is that English academies can teach the average player great skills but are weak when it comes to the young player with all the tools.

  13. Ibracadabra

    September 18, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Renken should definitely join Arsenal – if he wants to be 10th choice in the midfield on a team that hasn't won bugger all in three years.

  14. chengiskhan

    September 18, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Arsenal's youth academy is much better than others in the EPL. Arsene Wenger has staged a complete revolution there and Renken's physical, technical, mental, and emotional development would be in good hands with the Arsenal staff and facilities. Also, if Renken managed to shine, he might actually get a chance to play, possibly even with the first team. Wenger is well known for giving youngsters a chance. See what Jack Wilshere is doing at age 16.

  15. slipereypete

    September 18, 2008 at 10:43 am

    whatever gets him the farthest away from American coaches the better.

  16. ste_global

    September 18, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Yeah, I see your point but, as The Arse points out – the Arsenal Academy is unlike any othe academy in Europe actually. Its probably the best footballing education a 14yr old could possibly have.

  17. kkfla737

    September 18, 2008 at 9:20 am

    I never picked Spurs in the top 4. Never in my life! I picked them 8th! You should know that, I am probably more disparaging of Spurs than anyone out there and took poor Michael to task last year for picking them in the top 4. I did pick Villa 4th however and that is not looking great either with Liverpool actually playing this season for a change!

    Good point about the academy at Arsenal. It may be different.

  18. The Arse

    September 18, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Arsenal's academy differs from all others in England in that technical skill is the most stressed aspect of the program. This would be a beneficial move for Renken.

    BTW Kartik, how's that pick for Tottenham to pip the top 4 going?

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