AT a time when chances suddenly seem readily available to Chelsea’s youngsters, the Blues are reminded of one who got away.
Before Eddie Nketiah emerged as one of the most exciting young stars at Arsenal, he was an unwanted Chelsea forward dumped at the age of 14.
Six years on and Nketiah has shown the west London club what they’re missing, having been the standout star of the Gunners’ pre-season.
His late winner against Bayern Munich was the latest stride in a rapid rise. Substitute Nketiah had just eight minutes on the pitch but was named man of the match.
Chelsea are swiftly becoming a distant memory.
“I started off at Hilliford, it was a local club at Under-9s and then I joined Chelsea at the end of that season,” Nketiah, 20, told Arsenal.com last year.
“I was there until Under-14. I was released and told I wasn’t getting a contract. A week later I got spotted by Ian Gilmour, Charlie’s dad.
“At the time he was a scout for Arsenal and he brought me down and a week after I got signed.”
Nketiah may have been nurtured by the Gunners but he was formed in the streets of Lewisham in south east London.
Born to Ghanaian parents, England Under-21 star Nketiah learnt how to play football in the streets.
And it is no surprise he is able to battle with the best, having spent a childhood playing no-holds-barred football in a cage.
“It was really hard playing in the cage. There’s a lot of pride there and everyone wants to show how good they are and what they can do,” he said.
“There’s no security around so you have to fend for yourself. If you get tackled you have to just get back up. There’s no fouling.
“There’s a lot of trash talk going on in the cage and you’ve just got to have thick skin to get through it and show how good you are.”
Nketiah did just that, earning a call-up to Arsene Wenger’s first-team in 2017 at the age of 18.
His debut came as a late substitute during a Europa League win over BATE Borisov and next appearance was against Norwich in the League Cup a month later.
This was when Nketiah’s name became widely known by the Emirates faithful, as he came off the bench and scored an equaliser within 15 seconds of coming on.
GUNNER BE A STAR
He followed it up with a dramatic late winner.
“A lot of people think it took me just 15 seconds to score for Arsenal, but I’ve been working for this my whole life,” Nketiah said.
And despite Wenger’s departure last summer, his successor Unai Emery has clearly been impressed as well.
Freddie Ljungberg’s promotion to first-team assistant coach, having been academy boss, will have helped that.
Of Nketiah, Ljungberg once said: “He’s a great football player. He is constantly running, and I could not be happier for him.”
With the purse strings at the Emirates drawn tight, there is an opportunity for youngsters to flourish now.
Nketiah could well go out on loan this season to gain experience.
But having seen what Chelsea missed out on, Arsenal will be sure to make sure they don’t make the same mistake with their Ed Boy.