Q&A Mailbag: March 25
Another week, another Mailbag to pick our way through. We've hand-picked a couple of questions here – don't worry if yours isn't answered, as we may answer it over the coming weeks. Don't forget to send in more questions here.
To get us started, Tavin asks: What are your guys thoughts on Arsenal’s talented core of Saka, Martinelli, Saliba, Nelson, Azeez, Balogun, John Jules, et al?
Our thoughts are very positive – if they're managed correctly, Arsenal will benefit significantly both on and off the pitch. Bukayo Saka is already a first-team starter on merit, and he's crucial to the way Mikel Arteta's teams constructe and execute attacks. Gabriel Martinelli looks to have a high ceiling as a goalscorer. Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson seem to trustd by Arteta and his coaching staff, unlike Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
It's important that this group play minutes too; the early signs are promising in that regard. It's unlikely that all of these guys will go onto to be important players in a successful Arsenal team, but they all have every chance at forging good Premier League careers for themselves. The more minutes they play, the greater leverage Arsenal have when negotiating any sale to another Premier League club. It's unrealistic to expect elite club academies to produce player-after-player for their title-winning team. Instead, they should – and do – populate other teams throughout the league pyramid with accomplished players, generating substantial profits in the process. That will probably be the long-term legacy of most from this Arsenal group.
Brendan Lever asks: I would like to know your top European Development leagues for U-23 players and why. I love your handbooks and am very excited to get the new one!
Stephen Ganavas answers: Firstly, thanks for the support, Brendan. I think the Eredvisie is always going to be up there amongst our favourites. Lots of goals, Ajax, PSV, other fun teams, and there are always opportunities for young players around the league as we've seen with AZ Alkmaar this season. Every year there seems to be a new crop, from the Mount an Ødegaard seasons at Vitesse, to the Ajax squad last season, to Boadu, Stengs and Wijndal this season.
There certainly are others though. The Pro League in Belgium is increasingly featuring amongst our favourites, as is Denmark's Superligaen. I think wider scouting networks across the top leagues has led to an increased willingness amongst teams in these leagues (and others around the world) to blood more young players, with the increased possibility of selling them on for profit. These teams as well have greatly improved scouting systems; KAA Gent plucked Jonathan David out of nowhere, Midtjylland scour many interesting places and have found players like Awer Mabil from Adelaide United. But they are just two of many examples.
Lee Tennant asks: If you had to predict one under-23 player from the Danish Superligaen to end up at a top-six club in a top-five league, who do you think that would be and why?
Llew Davies answers: I don't think there are any players in the Superligaen who could step up to an established top-six team in an elite league and make an immediate impact; the difference in quality is just too big. That said, there's plenty of players who could be impactful in a team just outside of the established top six.
At Nordsjælland, I like Mohammed Kudus a lot. He plays an interesting role as a withdrawn attacker, dropping between lines to receive and attacking defences from deep, and his dribbling ability is excellent. He's also added a goal threat this season. I also like Magnus Kofod Andersen – a mobile, tenacious midfielder with a functional range of passing. Mikkel Damsgaard is joining Sampdoria team this summer too, of course. I'm not too high on that move particularly, as Sampdoria have been remarkably dysfunctional this season. I had hoped he'd follow Andras Skov Olsen to one of our favourite clubs, Bologna.
The 'sleeper' in Superligaen, I think, is Jonas Wind at FC København – a big-bodied striker who scores goals, links play really well, and can carry the ball too. Had he not badly injured his knee at the end of August, we'd all be talking a lot more about him.
A question from Michael Azarahar: Do you think Karamoko Dembélé and Youssoufa Moukoko will live up to their potential? And do you see them breaking into first-team football in the next 18-30 months?
Stephen Ganavas answers: Let’s start with Moukoko. He looks like he is going to be something special, but it is still very early to judge exactly what the ‘potential’ actually is. He hasn’t even played a senior game yet. In saying that, his goal record as a 15-year-old is nothing to sniff at! 34 goals in the Under-19 Bundesliga at a rate of one goal every 51 minutes, and a goal every other game in the UEFA Youth League is pretty insane. But we need to pump the brakes on trying to predict the trajectory of someone’s career at such a young age in the way many did with Martin Ødegaard. Let’s keep watching him, and see. He will still be 16 in 18 months so I wouldn’t expect him to be ‘breaking into’ the Dortmund first-team by then, maybe he might earn a few minutes here or there; but again, it is so hard to project that long into the future.
With Karamoko Dembélé, it is a little different. We have seen tiny glimpses of him playing for Celtic’s first-team this season, and we were probably due to see more of him in the run-in to the end of the Scottish Premiership season as Celtic stroll to another title. Although, Neil Lennon’s newfound fondness for the 3-5-2 does not help.
Moving into next season, some squad turnover should create more room for him to earn more opportunities. But again, he has only just turned 17, he is quite miniature and Celtic are stacked with attacking players they need to give minutes to. It is fun seeing these young players play, but we also need to be realistic about what we can expect in the short and medium-term; especially when they are at league-leading clubs.