Emile Smith-Rowe - I was playing at Bishop Auckland for Arsenal last season and now I'm in the Europa League
PUBLISHED: 12:59 22 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:53 22 September 2018
Emile Smith-Rowe has been speaking exclusively to the Islington Gazette newspaper after he made his Arsenal debut at the Emirates against Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League on Thursday. Read on for what he told Layth Yousif.
The fans have long since departed and the stadium is empty.
The perfectly manicured Emirates turf may still be lit by the glare of the floodlights but behind the scenes in a dark concourse that few rarely glimpse, nothing comes near to matching the bright smile of an 18-year teenager.
It is an hour after the final whistle of a match in which Emile Smith-Rowe has made his first-team debut for Arsenal.
The Croydon-born creative midfielder, wearing the number 55 shirt, replaced Alex Iwobi to make his bow as a substitute in the Gunners 4-2 victory over Vorskla Poltava to kick-off the opening match of the club’s 2018-19 Europa League campaign.
It was fitting the teenager replaced another homegrown product of the Arsenal academy, for Croydon-born Smith Rowe has been with the Arsenal youth system since the age of 10 and debuted for the club’s U23s side at just 16 years old.
The attacking midfielder was part of the England U17 side that landed the World Cup last year and is now an England U18 international.
Speaking exclusively to the Islington Gazette at the Emirates, the level-headed Smith-Rowe revealed his feelings at such a milestone.
He said: “For me personally it’s such a great achievement. I’m so happy and proud to get this far. I can’t really explain it.
“The boss said to me before the game: ‘If you come on, be ready. Be confident on the ball. Drive forwards. Be yourself.’ He always shows faith in me, he always helps me.
“I was a bit nervous before the match. I’m always nervous before games. When I came on, straight away I had to do a defensive header. It was crazy.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to play for Arsenal. The way the fans clapped me and it made me think: ‘This is it. I’ve got to show them what I can do.’ I’m just so happy.
“I would never have thought the fans would ever sing my name. It’s just unbelievable.”
Aged 17, he joined the senior team on their pre-season tour of Singapore this summer, scoring in the 1–1 draw against Atletico Madrid in the International Champions Cup.
He claimed an assist in the 5–1 win against PSG a few days later on 28 July, which also happened to be his 18th birthday
To cap a memorable period Smith-Rowe signed a new long-term professional contract with Arsenal 72 hours after that, happily putting pen to paper on what is understood to be a five-year deal.
Yet Smith-Rowe is a modest, humble presence, indicative of a cool, composed temperament which has aided his rapid rise.
He said with a slight hint of a smile: “My social media has gone crazy.
“Everyone’s just so happy for me. I’ve been getting messages from old school friends I haven’t seen in about five years. To get this type of feedback with all my mates texting me is just crazy.
“But my parents have said to me keep my feet on the ground, stay focussed and don’t let it get to you.
“It happens to so many players [that they lose focus due to adulation] so for me my family have helped me so much and I can’t thank them enough.”
The modest attacker who starred in Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup run to the final last term – where they ultimately fell to an expensively-assembled Chelsea side over two legs – is keen to give credit to those who have been with him all the way.
One way he has rewarded such faith, loyalty and support was to hand his mum the shirt he wore on Thursday evening, as he became the first player born after the Millennium to play for the Gunners.
It was a gesture that has already endeared him to a large number of fans, not to mention mums everywhere.
They aren’t the only people pleased for Smith-Rowe, as he revealed.
“When I first came on Danny [Welbeck] said to me ‘congratulations’ as soon as I walked on. For him to say that was memorable but for me it’s more about the team, the result. We got the three points and we won so we’re all happy. “
Arsenal head coach Unai Emery also hailed his young protagonist. Speaking after the match the former PSG boss said: “Emery said: “I am very happy with his work on the pitch, but not only today. It’s every day. He’s starting today’s match because his performances have been good in every training session.”
Not many people have made the journey from Bishop Auckland in County Durham when Arsenal U18s took on Middlesbrough in the FA Youth Cup to Vorskla from the Ukraine.
for Emile Smith-Rowe it took six months and a lifetime of hard work and dedication.
This correspondent has charted his rise with great interest making the long journey to that youth Cup fifth round match on a freezing cold Friday night in the North East at the height at last season’s arctic conditions.
Also recalled are Smith-Rowe’s two goals in the 5-1 rout of Colchester U18s in the quarter finals in deepest Essex, when the south Londoner shone.
Apart from an exquisite free-kick which showcased his abilities what was instructive was the sheer joy the talented teen took from playing and scoring for his side during their rout of the lower league youngsters.
He adds: “I was playing at Bishop Auckland last season and now I’m in the Europa League. It’s crazy. Playing in the FA Youth Cup to six months later making my first team debut playing with players I wouldn’t have dreamed of.
“My strengths are linking up with other players running on and off the ball. I like scoring goals but I also like creating goals for others. It’s so important for the team.
“I just like being a team player. I don’t like doing it for myself I like playing for the team. I’m a team player.”
Smith-Rowe has been starring for Freddie Ljungberg’s much-vaunted U23 side. He has so far made four appearances in the Premier League 2 competition for Arsenal’s Under 23s, scoring two goals.
He has also excelled for Ljungberg’s U21 side, scoring in the comprehensive 3-0 victory over a Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena earlier this month against a side packed with experienced professionals in Arsenal’s first-ever Checkatrade Trophy match.
A skilful and versatile footballer who can turn opponents while displaying excellent technique, Smith Rowe is capable of playing across the midfield or out wide.
Evert the modest team-man he is quick to praise the legendary Swede - who is fast gaining a reputation in the world of coaching, as he looks to develop the startling array of young talent at his disposal.
Smith-Rowe says: “I think he [Freddie] will be happy. He’s always helped me. He always tells me what I can do better but also what I’ve done well. He always gives myself and others [in the U23s] feedback.
“For me my targets are to play as many U23s and U21 matches as I can to get as much as experience as possible. One day I hope to make my Premier League debut this season and games like this can help to progress into the first team.
“But for me now it’s back to the Checkatrade and the U21s.”
With the startling progression Smith-Rowe is making at all levels with Arsenal the forthcoming Checkatrade matches at Cheltenham and Forest Green Rovers before Christmas should be worth watching – unless the humble starlet is picked for the first team again.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29