Wednesday , May 22 2024

The demise of ‘the best player to walk through the doors’ at Arsenal’s academy: How Charlie Patino went from scoring on his first team debut to heading for the Emirates exit at just 20

It was a cold afternoon on September 28 last year when I went down to Swansea Football Club to meet Charlie Patino.

The diminutive midfielder was splayed out on a chair in the club dressing room, ready for his only interview since leaving Arsenal on loan in August.

He was buoyant, for sure. Three assists and a goal in eight matches, seven of which were starts, had left the 20-year-old confident ­– and with his Gunners prospects on his mind for next summer, citing William Saliba’s transition from being loaned out on three successive season to becoming an Arsenal mainstay.

‘Saliba is a different player to me,’ he said. 

‘He’s a centre back, big, powerful, so for me it’s inspiring to see someone from Arsenal being able to go on loan, make a name for himself and come back and show his qualities at Arsenal because it is a massive club.’

Charlie Patino has endured a difficult season in the Championship with Swansea

Charlie Patino has endured a difficult season in the Championship with Swansea

A bright future seemed to beckon for the 17-year-old, but his progress has stalled

A bright future seemed to beckon for the 17-year-old, but his progress has stalled 

Patino gave no inkling of doubt in relation to his future at a club he joined aged 11 as he spoke effusively to me of the advice imparted to him by the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.

It makes his sudden drop-off all the more arresting, the 20-year-old set for a move abroad at season’s end.

With just one year left on his Arsenal contract, the exit door surely beckons. 

It’s understood that Mikel Arteta did not talk with Patino before his loan spells, but wished him good luck when passing him by at the club.

He had been ready to leave the Gunners in late 2022. Arsenal changed their mind and activated an option to extend his contract until 2025.

Patino was then earmarked to leave last summer — the hierarchy were happy to help facilitate him a move a permanent move elsewhere In his search for regular first-team football — but then both parties settled on sending him out on loan again, this time to Swansea, in a final shot at showing his potential to break into Arteta’s squad.

The emergence of the highly-rated Ethan Nwaneri, and fellow 17-year-old Myles Lewis-Skelly, were the final dents to that plan.

The 20-year-old joined Swansea on loan from Arsenal in August of last year

The 20-year-old joined Swansea on loan from Arsenal in August of last year 

Patino holds a Spanish passport through his father Jules, which would boost his hopes of moving to La Liga because of Brexit rules.

The career of a young player not going as originally mapped out is certainly not new. Though, you see, it was never supposed to be that way for a prospect whose talents were once compared with Saka.

In fact, Arsenal’s head of scouting Sean O’Connor described him as the ‘best player who has ever walked through the doors at Hale End’. Some statement when the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Tony Adams and Jack Wilshere have trodden that same path.

He scored in the 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland at the Emirates in 2021

He scored in the 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland at the Emirates in 2021

Patino (right) made his full Arsenal debut against Sunderland in the League Cup in December 2021 as he replaced fellow academy product Emile Smith Rowe (left)

Patino (right) made his full Arsenal debut against Sunderland in the League Cup in December 2021 as he replaced fellow academy product Emile Smith Rowe (left)

Patino’s connection with the north London club’s supporters base had ignited, too, when the then 18-year-old made his Gunners debut against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup on December 21, 2021.

He scored in the 5-1 win and soon after, the attacking midfielder was training with the first team and the fans even had a Patino chant ready.

The pathway seemed to be there for him to break into Arteta’s formidable squad – if he could make an impact on loan.

Patino spent the 2022-23 season away at Blackpool, a spell in League One which underwhelmed but he had time on his side. He was only a teenager.

It made the move to Swansea for the following campaign all the more important.

It started well. But then manager Michael Duff, who highly rated Patino and started him often, was sacked in December after less than six months in charge.

Alan Sheehan took over as caretaker manager for a month, before Luke Williams got the manager’s post.

That’s where Patino’s decline started. In the next 15 matches, he has not started once, playing just 120 minutes across those games.

Mikel Arteta opted to send Patino on loan last season and again this term

Mikel Arteta opted to send Patino on loan last season and again this term 

Patino spent last season on loan at Blackpool, before returning to Arsenal

Patino spent last season on loan at Blackpool, before returning to Arsenal 

But his loan spell at Swansea this season has been underwhelming so far

But his loan spell at Swansea this season has been underwhelming so far 

This, unsurprisingly, is said to have affected the midfielder’s confidence. It’s believed that his physical stature was one of the problems in the eyes of Williams.

When in his company, Patino’s build is slight. An area that could be targeted by opponents to counter his impressive dribbling skill. Although, he knew that and stressed in the interview it was an area he had been working on.

He said: ‘Physicality is one of the main aspects I want to improve.

‘I go in and do extra recovery, extra gym sessions to better myself as a player. I think it’s important because if I want to step up and be a Premier League player, the games are a lot quicker now and you have to be ready for one-v-one duels and battles that happen all over the pitch.’

One aspect that struck me before I departed Swansea was Patino mentioning the Arsenal fans.

He said that those fans still interacted with him on social media and were tracking how he was doing on loan, in expectation that he would one day raise the terraces at the Emirates in the same way he did in December 2021.

You can only hope that he finds his feet once again and reignites the excitement many had in a player who had so much promise when he first emerged on the big stage.

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