Newspaper article International New York Times

Wenger Returns to His Strength: Grooming Young Talent

Newspaper article International New York Times

Wenger Returns to His Strength: Grooming Young Talent

Article excerpt

Coach Arsene Wenger's strength is developing younger players, and the club has loaded up on them again this off-season.

Arsene Wenger, coming up on his 19th anniversary as manager of Arsenal, is now in his 52nd year in professional soccer. He has probably heard more ridiculous tales about which players he needs to buy than most of us have had hot suppers to eat.

But the philosophical Wenger likes nothing more than to develop a player. So far this off season he has spent $17 million for a world- class goalkeeper -- and a quarter of that on recruiting 11 embryonic starlets that he hopes to groom into stars one day.

Wenger is now well into the latter stages of coaching, yet he still comes alive whenever he sees a genuine prospect blossom on his team. On Saturday and Sunday, he positively glowed in front of a nearly full stadium during the Emirates Cup, Arsenal's annual preseason competition.

On Saturday, as Arsenal pounded Lyon, 6-0, two teenagers -- Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide -- stood out among the men on the field. Iwobi, who turned 19 in May, is the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha, a mellifluous, free-spirited Nigerian whose long career took him to clubs in Germany, Turkey, France, Qatar, England and Nigeria before he retired in 2011. Iwobi showed traces of his uncle's self- confidence, augmented by dribbling skills that he might have learned watching Ronaldo.

Reine-Adelaide, however, might be even more special. Just 17, but with a developed physique, the young Frenchman had a cameo against Lyon, then started in Sunday's 1-0 victory over Wolfsburg, the runner-up in the German Bundesliga last season.

Reine-Adelaide was hypnotic, and Wenger could scarcely conceal the joy in seeing him not just compete with, but sometimes mesmerize experienced, top-notch opponents.

There was a moment when Reine-Adelaide took the ball ever so close to Kevin De Bruyne, then teased him by putting his foot on the ball and dragging it surreptitiously away before gliding free.

De Bruyne was arguably the outstanding player in the Bundesliga last season, and he is rumored to be a $70 million target for Manchester City.

Reine-Adelaide, who later switched positions and set up the game- winning goal by Theo Walcott, was perhaps not even the main target in the deal that took him from France to England in late May. Arsenal was intent on snapping up the 16-year-old striker Yassin Fortune before other teams could, including Manchester United. Fortune and Reine-Adelaide came up together through the academy of the French club Lens, and Arsenal bought both in a deal that could cost as much as $5 million -- though some may say one day that the deal cost only $5 million, particularly if Fortune hits his targets.

Wenger is French and knows that potential is there, waiting to be found in his homeland. …

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