Arsenal’s old academy manager reveals club had serious doubts over Bukayo Saka’s ability until Freddie Ljungberg intervened

Arsenal star Bukayo Saka v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Before his breakout, academy coaches questioned Saka’s technical ability (Picture: Getty Images)

Arsenal’s former academy manager Andries Jonker has revealed that the Gunners’ coaching staff had significant doubts about Bukayo Saka’s technical ability and weren’t convinced he was ‘that good’.

Dutch football coach Jonker was in charge of developing Arsenal’s current batch of youngsters between 2014 and 2017, helping bring through the likes of Saka, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah.

All four have been heavily involved in the first-team this season, particularly under Mikel Arteta, though it is 18-year-old Saka – who has racked up 10 assists – that has impressed most.

Bukayo Saka signs a new long term contract at Arsenal
Saka recently signed a new long-term contract with the Gunners (Picture: Getty)

However, Jonker claims Arsenal had reservations over exactly how good Saka really was and it was not until Freddie Ljungberg played him at left-back that the club realised the potential superstar they had on their hands.

Speaking to The Mirror, Jonker explained: ‘Bukayo was another story. He was a left winger, always long, tall and strong and could run faster than his team-mates or the opponents, shoot harder than them.

‘It was such a physical advantage that we questioned whether he was that good. Because of his physical advantage, it was easy to doubt whether he was really a good player technically.

‘Then Freddie Ljungberg made him a full-back, and he did it and showed how good he really is.’

Saka was not the only Arsenal youngster who had to fight to prove he could be an Arsenal first-team player, with Willock and Nketiah both needing to prove doubters wrong – though everything came very naturally to Nelson.

Jonker continued: ‘Reiss, his talent was not questioned at all. Everybody could see, and with everybody I mean absolutely everybody, whether it was a coach or the opposition coach or a parent or a grandparent watching. Everybody would recognise the talent of that little boy.

Andries Jonker and Freddie Ljungberg before Arsenal v Ludogorets Razgrad: UEFA Youth League
Jonker and Ljungberg worked closely together at Arsenal before joining Wolfsburg (Picture: Getty)

‘But with other guys it was different. Joe Willock, Joe was always on the edge of “is it allowed, or is it not allowed?”

‘We had big fights with Joe, I had big fights with Joe, but I also believed in his potential and it was a real fight to keep him in the club even.

‘But now he did it. He finally understood what he had to do if he wants to make it to the top, and I’m really glad he did it.’

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