Arsenal’s Academy manager exclusively talks about his first year in the role and nurturing young talent on and off the pitch

Per Mertesacker is preparing for his second season as Arsenal’s Academy manager, and the German says his passion for youth development is key as he nurtures the next generation of players at the club.

In May 2018, Mertesacker ended a stellar career that included winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup and took on the role with Arsenal’s Academy.

One year on, the former defender shared his knowledge with staff from all 92 Premier League and EFL clubs at the 2019 Youth Development Conference at Fulham’s Motspur Park.

Learning from the best
He says combining his own experience with learning from the best at Academy level has helped him flourish in the role.

It’s been a great opportunity to share ideas, information and be part of youth football in England, Mertesacker said in an exclusive interview. It’s brilliant.

It’s been challenging. It’s been a great transition but I try to surround myself with good people, experienced people, people with expertise in youth development.

Transition team
Mertesacker has been working closely with Freddie Ljungberg, who this week was promoted from the Academy to assistant first-team coach, with the responsibility to help the transition of Academy players to the first team.

They will also be able to call upon the experience of another former Arsenal player, Steve Bould, who will coach the Premier League 2 team as well as oversee the Under-23 and Under-18 phase programme alongside Mertesacker.

Mertesacker says experience is important for his job but not enough by itself.

I bring myself, my presence, my knowledge of the game of 15 years professionally, he said.

You need to be up for the role. You need to be passionate about youth development and the game of football. These are the ingredients you need to make that step.

Educational development
In the role, Mertesacker has seen how the club embrace the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) to develop more and better homegrown players.

The EPPP aims to develop players off the pitch as well as on it and Mertesacker saw it in action as he travelled with Arsenal’s youngsters to the 2018 Premier League Truce Tournament in Ypres, Belgium.

He also emphasises the importance of an Academy developing good people as well as players.

We need to understand that going through the youth system is a bumpy road for every individual, Mertesacker said.

We are there to assist and support, and no matter where they end up, we want to have strong individuals who can cope with any challenge in life.

That is our topic; you need to be a better person every single day.

We speak a lot about the respect for each and everyone, we speak a lot about the discipline you need to have to reach the highest level, and the humility.

That’s the biggest challenge probably when you work in the world of football, where everyone just sees just one thing, but we’re trying to build more foundations than just the football part.