FEATURE: Arsenal’s talented Kaylen Hinds shows his class on loan at promotion-chasing Stevenage
PUBLISHED: 17:50 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 21:02 21 April 2017
Kaylen Hinds is a young Arsenal footballer with the world at his feet.
But there is seriousness to this young sportsman sometimes lacking in gilded teens. A serious desire to progress in the tough world of professional football.
We meet at Stevenage’s unprepossessing training ground at Bragbury End – where the 1966 Germany team, Franz Beckenbauer and all trained before the final.
The nerve centre of this club, the pride of this unlovely new town, is a few long goal kicks away from the functional 7,000 capacity Lamex Stadium. Where tomorrow this humble club will attempt to further cement their place in the League Two play-off positions when they face Mansfied Town.
Kaylen walks over and offers a firm and he looks you directly in the eye. He still has the words of praise ringing in his ears from his no-nonsense manager Darren Sarll, after this raw but determined 19-year-old played up front at Brunton Park on Easter Monday, helping to chisel out a hard-earned point against Carlisle United. After representing Arsenal U18s he is relishing the experience of playing in an unyielding adult league where every tackle in every game is fought with a passion rarely found in youth games.
He tells me: “I’m enjoying it very much here at Stevenage. It’s a good experience coming from the youth team at Arsenal to playing in League Two.
“Playing a tough away game at Carlisle this week was hard but it was a very good experience for me.
“I was glad to help out the team and more importantly to pick up points to help get Stevenage promoted via the play-offs hopefully.”
His attitude has been spot on as his manager Sarll tells me later. The Boro boss is not a man to be messed with – but, equally, is also a very progressive young English manager with high hopes – and a bright future himself.
He knows Hinds has been schooled the right way, with the right habits. And Sarll understands the Arsenal loanee is ready to help the lower league outfit this year to glory.
Hinds says with a steely glint in his eye: “The most enjoyable aspect for me being on loan at Stevenage is playing in the matches.
“Every single game is so important and it’s great for my development to know that every time I play there are thousands of people concerned about the result.
“I have found League Two far more physical than playing for the youth sides at Arsenal. There are more demands made on players during the game.
“It means more to the players, to everyone than youth football. At youth level I think it’s more that you’re at a learning stage whereas when you play in front of thousands of passionate fans every week you have to step up your game.
“You are playing against men, some of who may have played at the highest level before – so it can only help my development as a player.
“You can see how passionate people are here during games and also on social media. It’s good.”
An ability to cope with pressure is a good sign. It separates the men from the boys. Literally. And Hinds is made of the right stuff.
He certainly wouldn’t be thrown into the maelstrom of Sarll’s promotion battle if he didn’t think he was ready. Or able.
Hinds says: “I get on well with the manager here. He encourages me to take on players. He’s always telling me to take on players and if it doesn’t work he’ll take the stick for it.
“He’s a good manager. He gives me lots of confidence.”
But Sarll’s not the only one who’s been watching Hinds. Arsenal are continually monitoring his progress too.
He explains: “Arsene Wenger sends his scouts down to watch me in games for Stevenage and they give feedback to the guys at Arsenal.
“I haven’t heard how they think I’m doing – but they do give me good feedback on what I need to improve.
“I would say I need to possibly improve my passing. When and where to pass. My decision making.”
Islington lad Hinds seems not to have experienced the culture shock many teenagers experience when they leave the nurturing calm of Arsenal youth team football.
His levelheadedness and genuine modesty sees to that.
“There are big differences between Arsenal and Stevenage,” he articulates. “But there are also similarities.
“Both clubs look after their players and are very family oriented. There are good people at both clubs.
“There are good people at Stevenage. The manager is very good and he’s got a very good staff around him too.
“It’s the same thing at Arsenal of course but the facilities here at Stevenage aren’t as good, although they are of a high standard.
“We clean our boots here at Stevenage. It’s fine.”
As if to emphasise he’s still very much an Arsenal player he adds: “I’m still in touch with the boys at Arsenal. I catch up with them on my days off.
“They ask me all the time how I’m doing. I tell them I’m really enjoying it.
“There’s some really great players in the youth sections at Arsenal at the moment, Eddie Nketiah is a great goalscorer. Reiss Nelson is my tip for the top.
“There’s a great spirit among the Arsenal boys. We’re all close and we all want each other to do well.”
Arsenal fans may not have enjoyed the last few months watching the first team but the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley looms large in supporters thoughts as Sunday’s must-win game approaches.
It also features in Kaylen’s horizons too. He is after all a local lad – and a huge Arsenal fan.
He smiles a wide smile for the first time in our conversation.
The smile reminds you of why football is the greatest game in the world. Kaylen might be playing in the hard-bitten world of professional football – but his grin speaks of the innocent joy of supporting your team.
He says eagerly and excitedly – which is the only time you remember this talented lad is still a teenager: “I’ll be cheering on the boys on Sunday at Wembley, I’ll be there!
“I’m a big Arsenal fan.
“I’m a local boy, an Islington boy. I went to William Ellis in Camden so I’ve got a lot to live up to.”
These aren’t bland platitudes fed by an agent and spoken by a player with no real connection to the club.
Kaylen’s passion is evident for all to see. He also knows his Arsenal history and his idols. And pays them due respect and reverence.
“My favourite Arsenal player was Ian Wright,” he says. But it’s the following sentence which marks Kaylen out as a rare talent. For it shows awareness as a keen student of the game, and a player who is continually looking to improve.
“I loved his runs off the ball.
“Of course I loved his goals and his finishing but as a forward you can learn so much from just watching his runs off the ball.
“At Arsenal they do tell us about former players and icons. And on the odd occasions players do come in such as Robert Pires.”
But there was one player more than any other who had the most impact on him. Thierry Henry.
Kaylen recalls: “Thierry Henry coached us for a spell. It was great. He coached the U18s.
“It was amazing to listen to him and to experience him coaching us.
“The way he talked to us you could tell he’d been in our shoes and knew what to say.
“It was a good experience. He’d always say to us: ‘Be confident on the pitch and be the best you can be. If you make a mistake just move on from it.
“Just make sure the next thing you do is right.’”
This level-headed lad with a bright future is thrown a curveball. He takes it in his stride although the answer is interesting.
I ask him the main differences between his current manager and Wenger.
He thinks before replying: “The manager here makes me work harder. His favourite word is ‘dogs’.
“He wants us to be ‘dogs’ on the pitch. He wants us to work hard.
“I think we have been as we’ve been on a good run.
“The toughest game I’ve had here was at Cambridge. They just sat back and stopped us playing. It was hard but I learnt a lot that day.
“We’re looking to win. Hopefully I’ll start against Mansfield and excel. We want promotion through the play offs.”
Kaylen has already had experience of football in North Herts.
He played and scored at Top Field against Southern League Premier promotion chasers Hitchin Town back in November in a 1-1 to mark the inauguration of the Canaries new floodlights – 54 years to the month after another Arsenal side marked the unveiling of their original floodlights.
Kaylen has fond memories of the night. He says with a brief smile. “Yes, I was coming back form injury and I scored that night. It was good to get my fitness back up and nice to score. We’re glad we could help Hitchin a little bit too.”
Showing that awareness again – far more than his tender years suggest – and a selflessness more established footballers could learn from, he emphasised without any prompting, “As much as it was good to score and good for the Arsenal lads to get another game under their belts it was also good to help Hitchin Town too.
“That was the main thing from that night.”
As our chat comes to end Hinds adds with feeling: “Hopefully Stevenage can stay in the play off positions until the end of the season, and then get promoted.
“We’ve got work to do yet but there’s a great team spirit here.
“As for next season I want to play league football again, so I could maybe even come back to Stevenage although all I’m concentrating on is Saturday’s game. I’m really enjoying it here so why not?”
The England U18 forward says: “My long-term hopes are to break into the Arsenal first team and have a career there. Hopefully continue to play for England in higher age groups and just to be the best player I can be.”
Judging by his maturity and dedication off the pitch, and his tenacity and talent on it few would begrudge his dreams coming true.
One final question after a set of demanding ones he handles with tact and equanimity. Who’s got the best dress sense at Arsenal.
That smile again. “Chris Willock and Ainsley Maitland Niles - they just look ‘proper’. They look the part.”
Stevenage and Arsenal supporters would add Kaylen does too.
On and off the pitch.