Academy

Young gun

Young Gun: Osman Kamara

Osman Kamara

Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, it's Osman Kamara.

Ever since I was young, I have always had a love for football. There was a ball in my house, and I always just wanted to be kicking it. My dad noticed this at the time, so he was the one who really got me into football back then. He was a big Manchester United fan, so we started watching football together and the love affair started from there.

I’ve always supported Arsenal, just like my mum and sisters, but my dad tried to convince me to support Manchester United! I still remember going down to the park in Mile End where I grew up, either by myself or with friends, to sharpen my technique or play little matches.

I started playing for my first-ever Sunday league team when I was eight years old. It was called Senrab FC in east London, which is where a few famous players have started off down the years. It was a real eye-opener for me that if I really want it and if I work hard and sharpen my technique, then I could make a career and a journey out of football.

I played with Senrab for two seasons and then I had a trial at Crystal Palace – that was for seven weeks and was my first time going to an academy environment. It was all new to me, the intensity, the level and it was seriously different from what I was used to, so it took a while for me to adjust on the trial. I thought I played well, but it just wasn’t to be there. Funny story, but I actually met Noah Cooper [fellow first-year scholar] while I was there.

"It was such a good feeling when Arsenal signed me, especially because it’s my boyhood club"

About three weeks after I didn’t get signed by Palace, I got offered a trial at Arsenal at under-10 level. Obviously I was over the moon, but also a bit nervous because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I had to stay focused and just take the opportunity. The trial started really well – they put me into matches after the first week because I was playing so well and scoring a lot of goals, then they extended my trial for six weeks and then signed me off the back it. Just like meeting Noah when I was at Palace, I came up against Karmani Ryan [also a first-year scholar] on my Arsenal trial, when he was at Chelsea.

It was such a good feeling when Arsenal signed me, especially because it’s my boyhood club. My family were extremely proud of me and it gave me a real confidence boost, and after that I was playing really well because I knew that I was good enough to play for a club academy in London.

My time at Hale End was amazing. I’ve got so many fond memories, but one of the best has to be of going on tour to Spain. We made it to the semi-finals and were playing against Atletico Madrid. I smashed one in top bins inside five minutes and everyone was going crazy! It was amazing, but we all wasted our energy by celebrating and they went and equalised three minutes later! We went from a big high to a real low straight away, but at least we won the game 2-1 after composing ourselves.

Romari Forde and Osman Kamara

Josh Nichols and a few of the others were involved in that game actually. Even though football is really competitive, it’s great to still be with my team-mates from way back and see how the group has grown over the years. I love being able to look back at where we came from, how we used to play together when we were younger and how we’ve all developed into great football players.

I’ve had a good start to the season so far, but scoring on my under-18s debut has definitely been the highlight of it. I had kept my head down in training and it was great to see that my coaches had faith in me, and getting a goal on the day was a great feeling, I felt like I had proved myself. Myles Lewis-Skelly set me up for my goal that day and he’s probably the team-mate who I combine best with on the pitch. He will always suck in the players and I move in behind the defence to get that one-on-one against the goalkeeper.

I’m the youngest in the group right now, so growing up I was normally not the most developed compared to others. That never stopped me though – I just had to battle and find ways to play my football. In under-14s, I was quite short, I wasn’t as fast and I wasn’t as strong, but I found a way to still be effective on the pitch, like using one-touch passes around the box and my movement, instead of getting into a lot of physical battles.

"This club has such a great history of developing young players and seeing Hale End graduates in the first-team now is amazing"

I’ve still got so much to improve on and I’ve been working hard on my game in training, particularly practising my one-on-one attacking. Right now I’m trying to nail the “Thierry finish” where you bend it in. All Arsenal fans know this one!

When it comes to the training pitch, it’s great to be working with Adam Birchall again. He has been my coach for years, he’s a great coach and he knows how to talk to me in different situations and knows what will drive me and what would put me down. He knows the right things to say to me.

This club has such a great history of developing young players and seeing Hale End graduates in the first-team now is amazing. Just knowing that they grew up in London in tough situations and that there was a way out for them and if you keep working, you can get to the top if you believe in yourself and show your quality – it’s inspirational. It’s so great to be in and around them at London Colney and we all know that is a great place for our development.

I’ve definitely got ambitions to play international football one day, but I’m still a bit torn over which nation I would choose. My parents are from Sierra Leonne, and I think playing for them would make my family and parents really proud, but if England come calling it will be tough to turn that down! Right now all I’m really focusing on is becoming a reliable team-mate, being consistent and showing my qualities. Those are my only real goals for the rest of the season.

Interview

Ali on the importance of our club's alignment

Mehmet Ali reflected on our narrow loss to Sparta Prague in the Premier League International Cup at Meadow Park and the takeaways from Wednesday night's performance.

The 1-0 defeat was our under-21s' first on home soil this season, and despite our Young Gunners' spirited fight to attempt a way back into the game, it wasn't quite enough on the night.

"In the last five minutes, I saw the boys really trying to get into the box, get crosses in, make aggressive runs in behind their backline," said Ali. "It was just a shame that we didn't do that earlier on in the game. I felt we had good control, our structure was good and we had a good rhythm, but we lacked quality in the final third.

"We lacked aggressive runs, aggressive crosses, shots from in front, and those clever combinations. That's what we were looking for. I thought we were good between the boxes but the game was decided inside both boxes," he added.

"I just said to the boys: we have to learn and we have to be better in those moments. We can have the structure and set up, but you have to also have the bravery to go and head [the ball], and be switched on and focused. There's plenty of work for us to do in training in terms of being more ruthless in the final third and stopping and scoring goals."

Our Czech opposition, who now sit top of our group, presented a unique test for Ali's young charges and the boss noted the distinct experiences this competition offers. 

"Tactically, I think there are different things going on. When you play foreign opposition, you always expect different things you know, from a referee's decisions and stuff like that. It is different.

"From their perspective, I think they gave us a lot of respect. They dropped off, they made it hard to break them down, and they tried to catch us in transition. When we were aggressive on them and we pressed, they were quite direct and they played forward passes. But that was their game plan and their style and credit to them, it helped them get the win today."

"They had some senior players that played for them today and they're a B team who play men's football every week," Ali continued. "You could see their know-how and their nous of how to buy fouls and run the clock down when they were one-nil up, which was very clever. It was great for our boys to experience that and find ways of beating that - we just didn't do that tonight."

There were several changes to the side who beat Swansea City 4-1 at the weekend and with the transitional nature of academy teams, Ali credited the alignment of the club as a whole as a way to ensure rhythm and stability.

"That's why it's so important that we're aligned overall as an academy and with the first team. There are so many players that have fluid movement from going up to the first team, staying with the under-21s, and even under-16s coming up to support under-18s. It's so important that our style and what we're trying to do remains the same and that our principles don't change regardless of what players we have in the side."

"It's just a shame that tonight we couldn't win the game, but there were some positive performances. I was pleased with some of the younger ones that did get the opportunity to play tonight and it will do them well in the future."

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