Ahead of Tuesday’s FA Youth Cup Final, we hear from Arsenal’s academy manager Per Mertesacker and West Ham United’s U18 manager Kevin Keen.
“To be in the Final of the FA Youth Cup, the most prestigious competition in youth football, is a great occasion for the whole academy. We’ve had away games against Newcastle United and Watford, then played Cambridge United and Manchester City to get here.
- The FA Youth Cup
- 7pm BST, Tuesday 25 April 2023
- Emirates Stadium, Arsenal
- Watch live on The FA Player
“Every single game has had its adversity, but what this team has produced in crucial moments was to be fully focused and fully there.
“A London derby makes this occasion even bigger. We will have a bigger crowd and it will be played at home, so it will be very different.
“For these youngsters to play in front of such a big crowd, to have that experience and grow into it with Cambridge, Man City and now West Ham, that is something they will remember their whole lives.
“When they look up at the start of the game, they will have focus and a smile on their faces, then dive into this game with the determination to step up to the likes of Jack Wilshere, who won this same trophy 14 years ago.
“On Jack, you cannot just assume that stepping up from a football player into a leading coaching role is an easy task, but he has faced it with a smile and the support of everyone around us to make him the best version of himself as a coach.
“It has been phenomenal for him with learning moments, tough moments, positive moments. But to be in an FA Youth Cup Final in his first year is phenomenal, so big credit to him.
“Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe both played in our Final loss five years ago, so winning this competition isn’t the ultimate sign of success.
“Maximising potential, seeking out support, having the right mindset to improve on a daily basis, having the humility to not take things for granted, but work hard to step up to the next level. These are the ingredients shown by our academy graduates that are in the first team. The process is important and took us to this Final, and part of growth is winning. That’s what we’re preparing them for.”
“We’ve worked really hard all season to achieve what we have. The FA Youth Cup semi-final was a fantastic night for the lads to play at the London Stadium, which they had never done before, and to perform as well as they did against a good Southampton side was amazing.
“It’s going to be tough to replicate that at the Emirates, but that’s what we’re going to try and do.
“Looking back at our run to the Final, a really big moment was George Earthy’s goal in the 89th minute at Burnley, who were a really good team.
“In the changing room afterwards, I said, ‘These things happen if you’re going to win a cup.’ You need a little bit of luck, you need a little bit of class, that’s what going through and having a cup run is about.
“We’ve also had fantastic experiences, playing at the London Stadium in front of 7,000 West Ham fans, going to Stoke and playing at the Bet365 Stadium. The Emirates is another one that they can add to their list.
“The majority of this group have been together since they were ten. They’re childhood friends, grown up together, and then we’ve had some additions over the last two or three years that have made them even stronger. The driving force now is to try and achieve something together.
“It’s going to be a tough match against Arsenal. Jack Wilshere has gone in and done a fantastic job to get them to the Final, and they’ve got some really good players.
“None of our current team were born when we last won this competition in 1999, beating Coventry City 9-0 with the likes of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. I’m really hopeful that there’ll be a couple within this group that can go on and play loads of games in West Ham’s first team and hopefully go on to make England appearances like those two have.”