This week, our ‘England star in the making’ profiles Arsenal and England U-19 striker Benik Afobe.
Afobe is highly rated at Arsenal and it is easy to see why. The 17 year old joined the club’s academy as an 8 year old and has been hugely prolific in his time at the club. He made his debut for Arsenal’s U-16s at the tender age of 13 but it was three years ago that the young striker underlined his goalscoring potential when he bagged an incredible 40 goals in 33 appearances for Steve Gatting’s side. His impressive haul of 120 goals for the U-16 side prompted U-18 boss Steve Bould to give Afobe his U-18 debut against Fulham in October 2008; a debut in which the youngster came off the bench and equalised with a bullet header to secure a point. Afobe repeated the trick in his FA Youth Cup debut against Sunderland when he came off the bench to net in a 4-0 victory against the Black Cats (both goals can be seen in the following compilation video).
His goalscoring exploits were not confined to domestic competition as Afobe was instrumental in the England U-16 team’s triumph in the 2008 Victory Shield Tournament. The tournament saw Afobe match Michael Owen’s record of 4 goals in the annual tournament with a sumptuous display of finishing. He showed his goalscoring instincts with his brace against Northern Ireland. His first goal was a reaction to an errant back pass from the Northern Ireland defence which Afobe pounced on and finished with aplomb. His second was similarly instinctive as he swivelled on a loose ball to fire past the goalkeeper.
Afobe completed his record-equalling tally in the final against Scotland where he showed his aerial prowess when he powered in the opening goal of the game from an England corner (which can be seen halfway through the first video).
His performances with England earned Afobe a reserve team debut at the age of 16 years 4 days, making him the youngest player ever to feature for the Gunner’s reserve side, beating Jack Wilshere’s previous record. Afobe went on to make one more substitute appearance for the reserve team while featuring more regularly for the U-18s where he managed 12 goals for Steve Bould’s side.
The summer of 2009 saw the talented youngster reject interest from Barcelona to sign professional terms with the Gunners. Barcelona’s loss was to be Arsenal’s gain as last season was Afobe’s best for the U-18 side. He was named Under-18s Player of the Year after finding the net 20 times, including a hat-trick in the Academy League Final as Arsenal clinched the FA Premier Academy League Title for the second year in succession.
Domestic success was followed by international success as Afobe was part of John Peacock’s U-17 team which secured victory at this summer’s UEFA European U-17 Tournament in Liechtenstein.
Next season will likely see Afobe being given a more regular berth in the reserve team in order to aid his development into a future starter for the Gunners. As evidenced by his goalscoring tallies, Afobe is certainly a player with a deadly eye for goal but other areas of his game need improving if he is to reach the very top. Fortunately for the youngster, he is at the perfect club for him to nurture his undoubted talent and hopefully become a regular both at club and international level in the years to come.
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