Long Read: Nelson on Loans, Maturation and Mentoring | Feature | New
It’s been more than five years since Reiss Nelson made his Arsenal debut, in the Community Shield victory over Chelsea as a teenager in 2017.
Since then, the striker has enjoyed loan spells in Germany and the Netherlands, and played 50 times for our first team. But above all, he says he grew up, taking advantage of all these experiences to make him aware of the opportunity he has now.
“I’m 22, I made my debut at 17 and I feel like I’ve learned a lot since then,” he begins. “When I was younger I was maybe the ‘cheeky chappie’, very loud and just doing my own thing, which probably got me in a bit of trouble!
“I wasn’t really good at timing and the things I should have done, I did what I wanted. I made my debut at 17 and was training with the first team at 15 and 16, so I felt like I had all the time in the world, but if I could give one piece of advice now, it’s that time flies like this.
“So any opportunity you have is a basic thing, but live it and fully understand it, because you never know how fast your career can go.”
From being the wide-eyed youngster of the team, Reiss is now in a position where he can pass on what he has learned to those who are now walking the same path as him.
One of them is 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri. The young Hale End – an attacking midfielder like Reiss – not only trained with the first team, but made his debut in September, becoming the youngest player in our history. So, has Reiss ever had the chance to give the talented teenager some advice?
“Yeah, I talked to him a bit and that’s what I told him – it happens very quickly when you look back. I understand what it’s like when you come to the first team for the first time and coaches explain the drills Older players may know what they are asking us to do, as we have heard it before, but newer players may find it difficult to understand everything that has been said.
“I listen to everything, but the coaches will say it once and you have to take it back right away. I’ve been here a long time now so I understand that, but even for me a lot changed while I was on loan so you really have to understand everything. Every time I have Ethan in my band, I try to tell him, ‘Brother they’re asking us to do this or that’.
“It’s things like that that can be difficult at first, but other than that all I said was keep doing what he’s doing, enjoy every moment of it, because I just want the best for him.”
At this point in the interview, Ethan walks past us in school uniform, on his way to continue his studies after a morning of practice. “It’s so crazy,” smiles Reiss. “He is still at school, but I was in a similar position, so hopefully I can help him too.
“When I was first training with the first team, I remember being with people like the boss, who was coming to the end of his playing career at the time, but I remember ‘having been in groups with him, Per Mertesacker, Tomas Rosicky – all experienced players – and they gave me advice all the time. David Luiz was another one who really helped me when I was younger, Alexandre Lacazette was another one, and I really enjoyed that.
Reiss finds inspiration and guidance everywhere he looks in the current squad, and no more than any other Hale End graduate.
“For me right now, the person I look at and think ‘he’s doing so well’ is Bukayo,” he reveals. “It’s because of how young he is and how he takes everything in his stride. For me, it’s such a beautiful thing to see. He’s been through the academy, taken that path and he’s got it. did perfectly.
“I think people underestimate how young he is and what he actually achieves. For me, Bukayo is an inspiration because every young player should want to be like him.
But when it comes to finding inspiration off the pitch, Reiss doesn’t have to look far. “The person who inspires me the most is my mother,” he says. “For the education she had, then also when she had her own children, she worked so hard, taking two jobs to look after us. She made everything look normal and easy for us, but now I actually see it was so hard for her.
“She made everything so good, showed us all the love, respect and everything you need to continue to be a nice human being. She made me the man I am today, and she is still my inspiration, definitely.
“I love when my whole family is together, that’s when I’m happy”
He says it’s those values instilled in him from an early age that continue to shape his personality today – especially as he himself grows up and can look back on all the sacrifices his mother made. since joining our academy at the age of eight. , in 2008.
“Since I started playing Hale End it was my mum who made sure I practiced every time,” he says. “Gasoline is expensive, isn’t it? But my mother had two jobs, then my sister drove me to training after school. We came from a background where the money wasn’t there, so for her, driving me to the academy – one hour there, one hour back – three times a week, was a big sacrifice. It all adds up – money and time. So now, whenever I have the opportunity to make her happy, I try to make the most of it.
“We are still very close,” he adds. “I live five doors down from her. I’ve had a few loan deals lately, so it’s been hard not being able to see my family as much. But now that I’m back, I make sure we see each other every day. I love when my whole family is together, that’s when I’m happy.
“It was hard to see each other so much when I was in Holland last season, especially with the Covid too, but I saw my brother and my sister a lot, and my girlfriend was there often too, so I had people around me and support me there.
But life on loan is also about learning to manage without the comforts of home and being away from family, Reiss readily admits. He says his year in the Netherlands – playing for tonight’s visitors rivals Feyenoord – has only added to his experience.
Reiss helped the team reach the Europa Conference League final last season, but he said the life skills he learned off the pitch were just as valuable.
“I’ve done it before,” he says, referring to his time at Hoffenheim in 2018/19, “but this time I felt different, because of the pandemic, and I was on my own quite often.
“I did a lot for myself and learned a lot about the local culture, how the Dutch live, and I loved that side. Now I’m 22, I’ve had a few loans , in Germany and the Netherlands, and I learned so much.
“I talk about interpersonal skills and learning how diligent the Germans are in their timing for example, and I can say the same for the Dutch. Their discipline, their appearance, the way they respect each other – I try to take little bits of everyone I’ve met and integrate them into who I am.
“When you come in, you immediately feel like you’re at home”
“I come from a tough neighborhood where respect hasn’t always been taught, so learning about your surroundings and new cultures will only be good for me.”
On the pitch, it was also a hugely worthwhile effort: Reiss played 32 times, scoring four goals, but perhaps the biggest takeaway for the former England Under-21 player was the reinforcement of the old proverb, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
“Feyenoord are such a big club, an amazing club and the fanbase is one of the best,” Reiss says. “To experience Feyenoord against Ajax on their ground was crazy, and I had a great time, but as soon as I came back through those doors to Arsenal after my loan, I don’t know what it is, but I felt this love that I have in my heart for Arsenal.
“I’ve always had that, people who have been at the club for a long time have that love and I think it never leaves you. I don’t know if it’s because I know everyone here, security guards and cleaners to Edu and everyone else, but it feels like home.
“When you’re away you don’t realize how much you’re going to miss it, but when you come back you feel right at home.”
Now he is focused on restarting his career at the Gunners. His appearance against Bodo/Glimt on the final day in Norway was his 50th overall for the first team, but it’s been more than two years since his Premier League debut for the Gunners (an occasion he scored by a goal against Liverpool). He now craves more playing time and putting into practice everything he has learned over the past few years.
“I feel like everyone already knows what I can do, but I want to go out and play again,” he says. “I’ve played 50 times for Arsenal but it hasn’t been consistent, it’s been five years, that’s not what I wanted to achieve.
“What my mother passed on to me in terms of inspiration, I want to pass it on to the next generation”
“I made my debut at 17 and of course I didn’t expect to play every game straight away, but I really want to get into the rhythm of playing week after week. It’s something I dream, that’s my main goal for myself and I think if I can do it, my abilities will come through. I want to stay injury-free and focus on the things I need to do.
And once again, he turns to his mother for guidance and support in this potentially pivotal time in his career.
“What my mother passed on to me shows me that there is no progress without struggle,” he adds. “Whatever situation you’re in, she made it look good, and now sometimes when I look at myself and I don’t fit into the team, or I’m on the bench, I have to look how far I’ve come, and make sure I take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.
“When I think of other times when I was discouraged, I always tried to realize that I could be in a worse position. I learned to take each step as it comes and to remain grateful for everything. that I have Then, if I have a chance to evolve, I must seize it.
“There are so many games to come, and whenever I get called up I’ll be ready. I’m used to playing in European football, I’ve been doing it for a long time so I’m ready if it’s also in this competition.
And Reiss admits there is an extra source of motivation and inspiration for him to rise to the top again at Arsenal, and that comes down to family.
“For me now, I really want the young kids in the family to understand and have an idea of what I’m achieving and what I’m doing in my career,” he says. “They are my nieces and nephews, when my sister brings them to the games. They’re around 11 or 12, so they’re at the age where they understand what’s going on and I’d like to inspire them and show them that they can do whatever they want to do.
“I want them to see me play and create memories in their hearts that mean something to them. What my mother passed on to me in terms of inspiration, I want to pass on to the next generation. That’s what that motivates me now.”
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