Bukayo Saka was racially abused along with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, after missing the decisive penalty in last year’s delayed Euro 2020 final shootout defeat to Italy at Wembley Stadium. In the 6-2 thrashing of Iran in their first group game of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Saka demonstrated his strong mental attitude creating a seminal moment for the young England Lion and Budweiser player of the match. Saka was quieter in the second game against USA but there is every chance he can set the Qatar World Cup alight.
If not a moment of redemption for Saka, in the same manner as David Beckham in 2002 vs Argentina where his red card in 1998 had seen him suffer vitriolic abuse. Stuart Pearce’s penalty against Spain in Euro 1996 was a redemption moment following the heartbreak of a missed penalty in Italia 1990, then it could most definitely have been described as a moment of affirmation of this young player’s inate ability to bounce back from the adversity and total anguish that he suffered from missing that penalty.
Praise and Support
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Bukayo Saka praises the outpouring of support he received following his Euro 2020 experience after scoring a brace in England’s World Cup romp over Iran. The images of the wholehearted applause he received to a man at his first Premier League appearance at Brentford after his Euro 2020 experience is testament to this. Football tribalism was put to one side and the skill and talent of a young player has been recognised by the large majority rather than the ignorance of a few.
“Obviously it was quite a while ago now but it is a moment that has been with me and will be with me forever. I am so blessed and so grateful to have coaching staff, not only here with Gareth but also at Arsenal, my friends and family who put their arm around me, the love of my teammates and the nation that has supported me and helped me get back into a good place. When I feel that love from everyone around me , it is really good for me and gives me a lot of confidence and belief in myself to go again.”
Saka is being modest in this regard, as his ability to bounce back from the ordeal at Euro 2020 is also largely as a result of his inner strength and resilience which he has shown from a young age in Arsenal’s Academy.
This can be evidenced from his graduation from Arsenal’s academy to the first team, making his first team debut in 2018 at the tender age of 17 in The Europa League. Arsenal are known for their strictness when it comes to promoting players from the academy to the First Team and rarely do so without the player being an exceptional talent.
The fact that his career has since taken a very steep upward trajectory and he has become one of Arsenal’s most influential players – he has already racked up over 100 Premier League appearances whilst being selected for 2 major tournaments and being voted Arsenal player of season in 2020-2021 – reveals a player heading for long term success.
Roy Massey , now retired and former Head of Academy at Hale End, coached the player from Age 8-13. Roy said that;
‘Saka was a very talented player like all the lads that come into Arsenal at that age. What stood out with him was that he had a great left foot and he seemed physically stronger than the other lads.
He had an exemplary character to training and a very good work ethic. He was always on time for training. He came from a very good background and family. An exceptional talent that loved football very much and worked very hard in training, exceptional ability on the ball.”
Roy would put his success down to his inner character, strength, resilience and determination.
Kevin Beadell , Current Head of First Team and Under 23 Recruitment at Cardiff City Football Club and Lead scout at Arsenal’s Academy from 2014 – 2019 also stated that Saka is a good , humble and level headed player. What you see now is what you saw when he was a 13-14 year old player.
His selection in the starting eleven in England’s first match in the World Cup ahead of another prodigious talent in Phil Foden also shows the trust that Gareth Southgate has in the player. This is not lost on Arteta’s admiration of the player and his omnipresent inclusion now making him one of the integral members of the Arsenal squad.
More impressive is the fact that Saka is also a straight A student, and probably would have excelled in any career path he had chosen if he had decided not to be a Professional footballer. Becoming an exemplary student and combine that with the intense and unforgiving demands of excelling in the academy environment is testament to the character of this young man whose footballing ability and endeavours are first class.
He is a quality footballer and a quality individual at the same time and its unsurprising that he has been able to keep playing and go from strength to strength for club and country after the trauma that he suffered on and off the field after Euro 2020 .
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