LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 28: Folarin Balogun on Arsenal runs with the ball during the Premier League 2 match between Arsenal U23 and Manchester City U23 at Emirates Stadium on February 28, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images)
In recent years, Arsenal have endured some bad decisions regarding the future of their young players. Serge Gnabry, Donyell Malen, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ismael Bennacer have all left for nothing or on the cheap and flourished elsewhere. How much could the Gunners use them now? And now there is another young starlet who could be on his way out of the club.
On Monday morning, David Ornstein of the Athletic reported that, with his contract expiring next year, Folarin Balogun is unwilling to sign a contract extension and the club are considering selling him this summer for the right offer with the threat that they will lose him for nothing in a year.
Balogun has excelled in the youth set-up. In 1,200 minutes in Premier League 2, he scored 10 goals and provided four assists. At just 18, he is largely considered as the best performer for the under-23s this season. Across his career, he has 34 goals in 33 under-18 Premier League games. He has dominated youth football but has rarely been handed opportunities with the first team, which is a major motivation for his desire to move elsewhere.
Losing such a vastly talented young player is never ideal, as Arsenal have experienced in the past. And of course, this news has been met with large criticism for the club’s lack of foresight. Any player that has the potential to break into the senior squad should be kept with the team until they prove otherwise. And Balogun certainly has both the talent to do so and has done nothing to prove that he could not make it.
However, while such criticisms are semi-accurate, in reality, there was little the club could have done differently. The first professional contract that a young player can sign cannot exceed two years in length. Arsenal signed Balogun to his first professional contract in February 2019, extending it for more than one season.
They also have two excellent young centre-forwards in the senior squad already. Eddie Nketiah has broken into the starting XI, while Gabriel Martinelli was sensational in his first season at the club, even with suffering a recent season-ending injury. Balogun has not worked his way ahead of either in the pecking order just yet, and if he is keen to move, there is very little that the club can do.
That Balogun cannot break into the first team is also a sign of the talent that the academy has produced in recent years. It speaks the ability of Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka, as well as the intelligent scouting to find talents like Matteo Guendouzi and Martinelli. Sadly, there is only so much room in the senior squad.
Balogun, then, feels his career is better served by departing. And he may indeed be right. Arsenal will have to deal with the consequences of that. But while the criticism of the club is inevitable, in reality, this is a sign of having a productive academy, and that is no bad thing.
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