Critics often say academy life is too easy – is that unfair?
In some ways it makes you sad to hear stuff like that because we all try our hardest. Where we are today is down to the hours of work we have put in on the training ground. When I was younger I played for a team in Lewisham, which was an hour and a half away from Arsenal’s training ground and I had to go there twice a week and play on a Sunday. From the age of eight my sister took me to Arsenal, so myself and my family have had to make sacrifices.
Do you feel pressure playing for an academy?
I have never felt much pressure because Arsenal have always been my team and I knew a lot of the lads playing here already. I just wanted to impress. I have been an Arsenal player since I was six, so I’ve practically been here my whole life. They gave me a three-year deal when I first joined and then another one after that. They always told me I’d get one, so I’ve never had that fear of not getting another contract.
More after the break
How difficult is to stay grounded?
It’s important to have the right people around you. If you sit back and think you’ve made it with your first professional contract then you’re in trouble. The motivation has to come from yourself. My family are really laidback, they’ve never had to tell me to train or live right, that’s come from myself.
Have you had to make sacrifices to pursue your career?
Definitely. I loved playing for my school team with my mates but I was told to stop when I was in Year 8 so I didn’t get injured. It was a life outside of the environment of Arsenal, where everything is very serious. At school it was laid back, it felt like I was at home. When I couldn’t play it was upsetting.
Are you able to have fun and play with freedom in an academy?
Academy life is enjoyable, you have to approach it with the right mindset. I think being too serious can have a negative effect on your game. I’m a laidback person and I don’t go into training thinking I’m being judged every day – I just enjoy it. I’m 17 now and I do want to play in the first team, but I don’t overthink it. I know that if I keep doing what I’m doing for the under-23 side then I’ll get my chance eventually. It’s all about staying focused.”
There are lots of different nationalities within academies – is that a good thing?
I think so. A lot of my friends are from different countries and their style of play is very different. It does wear off on you and you learn things from them. The English style is different, we pass it more, foreign players like to run at the opposition and dribble more I believe. When we do technical drills they’re always really good and composed.
I also think they’re very tough and mature. From a young age they have had to leave their families, move abroad and live in digs. That takes a lot of maturity to do that I think.”
Reiss Nelson was speaking at the launch of Adidas Glitch 17 Corrozone Gold