In a few days time, Per Mertesacker’s playing contract at Arsenal will end.
When he returns to Hale End, he’ll be heading up the club’s Academy – a huge responsibility for the 33-year-old given the Gunners’ dedication to chanelling youth prospects into the first team.
Last season, Arsenal’s youngsters impressed. The under-23s won the Premier League 2 title and reached the final of the Premier League International Cup. Further down the chain, the under-18s reached the final of the FA Youth Cup.
In short, there is talent waiting in the wings. But there are also issues awaiting Mertesacker, including an investigation into alleged bullying by coaches Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman. The pair is currently suspended.
So what is Per going to tackle his new role? He dropped a few hints in his new book ‘Weltmeister ohne Talent‘, where he explains:
“In my new role as Arsenal academy manager I will do everything I can to challenge the young players’ mindsets.
“I want to challenge them so that they are ready to take on new ideas and protect them from being injured, when it comes to their body and soul.”
Having spoken so candidly about the stress he suffered trying to cope with life at the top of the game, Mertesacker seems absolutely dedicated to protecting the mental health of teenagers, on whom the spotlight shines increasingly brightly.
“We should be careful that we do not judge people too early,” he says in an interview with deutschlandfunl.de.
“That was the case with me, I was judged early and judging early can be bad. In retrospect, I’ve always grappled with how you deal with the concept of talent. As you are confronted with it, you dissect it and find peace with it.
“Football has changed a lot over the last fifteen years. When I was a teenager, I was not approached by an agent at 13, I didn’t have a boot sponsorship deal, there was no social media, I could grow up a bit more sheltered, not thinking so much, ‘What does it mean now that I’m getting so much money, a boot sponsorship deal, am I something big?’ We need to take care of these issues.
“Most of the time, it’s not the kids who lose their heads – most of the time it’s the people around them: the parents, the agents, who really confuse them and really give the wrong values.
“That’s what we, as a club, of course, need to do. Where can one really convey values? If the first story is, how can we give the most money to whom, then it is very, very much destroyed.”
In his final season at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger conveyed his own worries about the influx of cash at youth level. According to Mertesacker, it’s a situation that is altering the family dynamic for the worse.
He explained: “London is a completely different place compared to Hannover. Many families are not doing well, they cannot support their families so well, they do not have a job with lots of money, which means that as soon their children are allowed to earn money at 16 or 17, more than their parents, it’s unhealthy. The parents then stop working and start thinking, ‘My child is taking care of me now.’ It should always be the other way round.”
“I want to convey values and also try to promote that money does not play the decisive role, especially for youngsters. We need to be able to control and support the development of these young people.
“Being authentic helps the young players, they should feel well cared for and well supported and not try to push things away and push things aside.
“I do not think anything is lost in the football business, I think with all the attention that comes to the young players, you should talk and understand more about it, the guys have to understand themselves first and their feelings, how they see themselves and how they deal with and overcome the pressures and that’s why it’s a great job for me to have such a positive impact on young people.”
Mertesacker’s interview with deutschlandfunk.de is well worth a read, although, you might, like us, need a hand from Google Translate if your German isn’t tip-top.