JORDAN McENEFF is determined to put in the hard yards to ensure he becomes the next academy prospect to break into Arsenal’s first team after signing a two-year scholarship with the Premiership club last Friday.
The Republic of Ireland youth international has been rubbing shoulders with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal’s state-of-the-art London Colney training base in recent months, giving him a taste of what the future could hold.
Recommended by Arsenal’s Head of Recruitment, former N. Ireland and Gunners’ midfielder, Steve Morrow, McEneff has impressed coaches in the Gunners’ Academy enough to earn one of 12 coveted places on the 2017 scholarship programme.
In fact, the talented 16 year-old attacking midfielder is the sole representative from Ireland and follows in the footsteps of former Ireland and Celtic striker, Anthony Stokes who also came through the ranks at the Emirates club.
More recently, Nigerian international Alex Iwobi progressed through the same scholarship programme to make 59 appearances for the Arsenal first team while Hector Bellerin and England internationals, Jack Wilshere (2008) and Kieran Gibbs (2006) are also graduates from the same youth system.
So, having impressed at Schoolboy level at the Hale End Academy, McEneff is ready to do whatever it takes to make sure he earns himself a professional deal with the FA Cup champions.
“I’m probably the first Irish person over here in a good few years as well which is even better,” said a delighted Jordan. “The last two years have gone quick so now it’s only the start.
“I’m the only one not from England that they’ve signed, so obviously that’s a good sign. And they can pick from anywhere really. The manager was saying, everyone might come over and think it’s going to be easy but they told us it was going to be hard work. Hopefully I do my best, impress and get into the first team some day.”
The fleet-footed teenager has enormous potential and reckons he can learn from his big brother Aaron’s experience as a youth graduate at Arsenal’s north London rivals Tottenham.
Derry City midfielder, Aaron McEneff signed a two-year scholarship deal at the White Hart Lane club in 2012 before securing a one-year professional contract in 2014. However, a combination of injuries and homesickness saw his Premiership dream fall by the wayside as he returned home to sign for the Candy Stripes where he’s rediscovered his form.
Now a mentor for his younger brother, Jordan believes Aaron’s experience has braced him for how mentally and physically taxing it is at the top level.
“With Aaron being over before, he’s been able to tell me a lot about it,” explained Jordan. “He’s told me about the mistakes he made and is helping me make sure I don’t make the same.
“I think he got a bit homesick and had a few injuries and it was a lot to do with being mentally ready for it over here.”
I’m playing for the next contract and hopefully I can get a bigger and better one and then move on through the ranks - up to the U23s and then on to the first team some day.Jordan McEneff
The support from his close-knit family and in particular his two footballing brothers, Nathan and Aaron, has proven invaluable for the level-headed Cornshell Fields native being away from home at such as young age.
“Before the start of pre-season I probably wouldn’t be as fit as I am if it wasn’t for Aaron and Nathan. Aaron would be in every day training but Nathan would come to the gym with me and come down and play football and help improve me. We are a very close family.
“I’ve settled in really well in London. I know all the boys at the digs from coming over this past couple of years. When you’re at Arsenal it’s obviously the aim to one day play for the first team.
“So I’m playing for the next contract and hopefully I can get a bigger and better one and then move on through the ranks - up to the U23s and then on to the first team some day. It’s exciting. Especially when people back home are so supportive.”
It’s been a hugely successful year so far for the young Derry man who caused a stir on social media recently with a magical piece of skill when representing N. Ireland in a friendly against the Republic, watched by over 8,000 people on a live stream on YouTube.
He later went on to make the switch to the Republic and netted the winning goal on his debut in the final minute against Hungary in Galway - a moment he says he’ll never forget.
The former Coleraine reserves midfielder, who delayed his full-time move to Arsenal until he completed his GCSE’s, also ended his association with St Columb’s College on a high when helping them win the NI. Schools FA. Cup - scoring in the showpiece in Ballymena!
“It’s probably been my best year so far football-wise. I scored the winner on my Ireland debut which was unbelievable - a class feeling.
“That was probably one of the best moments this year and I think I scored in the last minute of the game as well.
“The boys in the squad all took me in well considering I played against them just a few months before. I was buzzing wearing the jersey, it’s always been a dream.
“I’ve moved over to Arsenal this year and they’ve built a big new building at the training centre which is probably one of the best in Europe. The facilities are top class. They have about 12 football pitches which are all the exact same as the Emirates. The surfaces are class.
“There’s four fitness coaches. So for every 10 people there’s a fitness coach. Everyone gets their individual programmes so they can work on weaknesses so they can get better.
“Arsenal obviously like to play a good brand of football and encourage everyone to play the way they want which is good.”
He’s been handed the No. 83 jersey and he’s prepared to make the most of his opportunity.
“It’s class just knowing you have a number, and it’s really a first team number. It makes it all official. Even at Arsenal the first team use the same canteen and the same gym so you see them more or less every day and train beside them. It’s crazy but makes you want it even more.”