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Renken’s Possible Arsenal Move: Some Thoughts

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. 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.

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, developiong 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 Jermone 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. Ian

    September 19, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Arsenal's academy is not to be trusted with him. If he goes to England, West Ham, Man City or Watford would be better. Renkin is a special talent and will likely be good wherever, but may not be as good as he can be if he goes to the wrong place.

  2. From where I'm sitting

    September 18, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I disagree, because I think Charles Renken is a special case. I think he has plenty of skill, and more power than Freddy, who is a notoriously finesse-bound player. If we could get a real success story in the Premiership, it would greatly improve chances for us cracking the best league in the world. And you're telling me a chance to play with rising Gunner's (even if he never makes the full team) is going to give him a poor early training process?
    The way I see it, he has a much greater chance at learning something valuable that he never could in the MLS, and an amazing (and priceless) career boost.
    Two examples: Kenny Cooper is looking like a very interesting option over scoreless Ching, and he definetly benefited from his time training with Man U.
    Second: Beasley had some easy, fast goals for PSV, where the play wasn't so intense, then played horribly (minus 1 pass) in last World Cup.

    Charles Renken isn't getting any worse if he joins Arsenal, and this deal could help everyone involved. Let him go.

  3. Hboy

    September 18, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Your comments are fair enough with regards to young men leaving their country at such a young age, but you're picking on the wrong team with Arsenal, there's more opportunities to make it at Arsenal than any other leading european team. What you're not taking into account, are the chances of a 14-year old making it to the top. No-one is guaranteed to make it at that age, but Arsenal have a tremendous record of giving these young men a professional career in the sport. You talk about Frank Simek as if Arsenal piddled-away the career of the next Pele, that wasn't the case, he was average. Arsenal can take a talented player onto the next level, they can polish diamonds, but they can't make diamonds out of pebbles. That he's playing at any professional level, is something he, and Arsenal can be proud of. With defenders especially, it's very difficult to predict at that age, the tallest, strongest, bravest kid on the pitch at 14, isn't necessarily anything more than an early developer, physically nothing special by the age of 18.

  4. undrafted

    September 18, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Arsenal tends to buy up the top 16 year olds from across Europe. I'm not sure that means they have a top academy. How many English kids has the Arsenal system produced?

    Anyways I still think Arsenal is a great place to go, as he'd be surrounded by several top 16-18 year olds. If they keep a fraction of their youth, it'll be a hard place to get first team minutes.

  5. sean

    September 18, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    It seems as if this article has been put in place to criticise English academies?Arsenal have one of the top 3 academies in Europe and given the chance the boy should take it and fulfill his dream.The MLS is at best 2nd rate and would only damage the boy in the long run.It would be best for US football to let Arsene Wenger work his magic on the lad.

  6. American Gooner

    September 18, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Simek isn't the same kind of player Arsenal develops, and was at an earlier stage of Wenger's career (if indeed Wenger actually signed him – if not, that only emphasizes the first point). Holland spends more time developing players technically, yes, but not any more than Arsenal (and given the style of football Arsenal play, not as well on average, though a chance to train with Ajax would be closer to the Arsenal standard.)

    Plus, it's not like Kirovski, Cooper, and Spector didn't exactly pan out. There's a little cherry-picking going on when Beasley is included among the Dutch players, since he was already a pro in MLS before he went over. Bradley is promising but still untested against quality opposition. His defense is tough, but his passing is overrated at this stage of his career. O'Brien is the only other one on the Dutch list that makes sense and injuries make it difficult to assess his overall career. He had to turn to MLS towards the end because he wasn't getting minutes in Holland.

    Suffice to say, this article has a lot of anti-England baggage that ignores the fact that any youth player with an Arsenal offer have the opportunity of a lifetime, and any US player that can work with Wenger's side will only help the program.

  7. Stef

    September 18, 2008 at 10:27 am

    coming to england is no guarantee that they as going to make it! Only one player every 10 years breaks from a teams academy to the first team. When that happens you are worth $30million. You have to be more than just a special player, you have to be be one of the best in the world.

  8. Fabregas' Dad

    September 18, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Arsenal are probably one of the most technically demanding teams in the world, as for Simek, that was a long time ago and back then Arsenal's academy was not as strong as it is now because Wenger has had time to develop it.

  9. Mark

    September 18, 2008 at 8:49 am

    In general, I would agree. However, this is Arsenal, and they arguably play the most technical pleasing football in the league. Your mention of Simek training with Arsenal is noted though. Hard to say if this is a good move or not.

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