What does it mean for the club to be able to secure the long-term futures of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli?
It’s two young players, but different cases. Bukayo came through the academy and I think we did the right process with him – 100 per cent right. So he started with the first team just training, then he came into training even more, then started to be on the bench, then started to play 15 minutes, 20 minutes of games, then he became a very important player for the squad. So the process with him was brilliant. This process is the one we are working really hard on in the club to get it even more with the players. So that’s very important for everybody and to send a message to everybody about the way we are working.
Martinelli is a young player, different process but a very nice case as well. We bought Martinelli when he was 17, he didn’t come from the academy, but we planned with him to start with our under-23s and then, because he’s such a talented player in the pre-season he proved how he could be in the first team, as with Bukayo. Be on the bench, training with the first team to be in the squad, then he proved as well to be an important player as well so it’s two different cases but we are really, really happy to have the possibility to renew and to be with them for a much longer period.
Tell us about what sort of character Bukayo is off the pitch…
He’s the one which we are really proud of because for myself, since I joined the club, I started to know the players, to get with the players and I saw from the beginning Bukayo, his behaviour, the way he speaks to you guys, the way he speaks to me, to the coach, the players. The ways he speaks to everybody is so nice, and I had the opportunity to meet his family as well. When I met his dad, his mum, his brother, I saw where Bukayo has come from properly. The family is similar to him. We say, ‘He has got his feet on the floor’ in Portuguese. Everybody is so nice and I’m proud, I’m proud. I really love it when you see a player with that behaviour and that potential, that mentality to succeed. That’s beautiful.
Are you surprised by how quickly Gabi has adapted?
Yes, 100 per cent. I am surprised too because I know how difficult it is if you live in Brazil, to come to here and straight away adapt the way he has. As I say, the plan with Martinelli was to start with the under-23s, be with the first team in pre-season, then come back to the under-23s. But in that pre-season he already showed how important he’s going to be for the team. It’s quite similar, at that point, it’s a quite similar situation to Bukayo. When you are talking about behaviour, attitude, mentality, family, so it’s really nice, really nice. I met as well his family, and I saw properly how nice they are, how educated Martinelli has been during that period.
Brazil always produces exciting young players – we’ve seen that forever. Does [Martinelli] remind you of someone you’ve seen before? Another Brazilian that maybe has his style of play?
It is difficult because he is Brazilian, but if you see his behaviour, the way he works on the field, it is not like a typical Brazilian because he is working really, really hard. He goes in with a lot of intention. I don’t know, it is really difficult to compare him to be fair, maybe I’m going to be unfair with him.
Bukayo is still 18, Gabi has just turned 19. Two teenagers that are showing that they are ready for the Premier League. Do you think that we might see more of that in the coming years – players so young, but ready to step up?
I think so, I think so. If you see right now around the world… you see 17, 18, 19-year-old players playing for the first team at a very high level. The idea we have right now with Per here at the academy is to connect even more the 18s to the 23s and to the first team. Sometimes the quotation is there and you have to give the boys the opportunity to be close to the first team and let the guys smell how prepared they are, how good they are, to be closer and closer to the first team. I think we are doing that job quite well and if you see around the world, there are even more players willing to be playing at a younger age. So today you see players at big, big clubs who are playing at 16 years old. You have to be very focused on these players as well.
Finally, it’s not just the two players we’ve spoken about. This season we’ve seen Joe Willock, we’ve seen Eddie Nketiah, we’ve seen Reiss Nelson, we’ve got Emile Smith Rowe out on loan, you must be really pleased with the work that the academy has been doing recently?
Yes, I think when you are talking about those kinds of players, you are talking about more the concept. The academy is doing a proper job, the coaches from the academy are doing a proper job, the performance guys as well because you have to prepare the players to be strong to stay in the first team. Then of course, the quality of the guys in the first team. To see and to do the right process with the players because at times if you push too much it’s not good for the players. You have to understand the right time to start training, the right time to start to including the players on the bench and the right time to expose the player to play football for the first team. The process is a very big piece for everybody, it has to be done properly, we are working really hard to pay attention on that part, to see even more from the players that we get from the academy.