TALENTED midfielder, Jordan McEneff is back playing with a smile on his face and focused on making up for lost time after signing professional terms with Arsenal Football Club.
The 17 year-old Derry lad has a new-found confidence ahead of the 2018/19 campaign having landed his first professional contract last week, signing a three-year deal with the north London club.
Following a season disrupted by injury including an operation on a fractured metatarsal and a gruelling, often lonely, rehabilitation programme he’s now graduated through the Academy and has high hopes for the campaign ahead with Kwame Ampadu’s U18 squad.
The Ireland U18 international is also on the fringes of Arsenal legend, Freddie Ljungberg’s U23 outfit having represented them in a pre-season tournament in Germany this summer.
Jordan is hoping to take full advantage of Arsenal’s coaching shake-up in the post-Arsene Wenger era and perhaps force his way into Ljungberg’s plans with a solid pre-season behind him.
It’s a fresh chance to impress and the attacking midfielder has already made an encouraging start having found the net in pre-season, adding an assist in the young Gunners’ 4-2 win over Aston Villa U18s in the season opener at London Colney last Saturday.
Graduating from the Arsenal Academy to the first team is a rare occurrence these days but Jordan wants to give himself every chance of making it and he’s delighted to be rewarded for his hard work with a first pro deal, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Derry City’s Aaron, who earned a one-year pro deal with Spurs in 2014.
“It was hard last year being injured but to sign a professional contract has boosted my confidence,” said the Cornshell Fields native, “At my age, getting a big injury like that, you think it’s never going to get better. It was my first big injury but I did get over it.
"It was hard to come back into the team because they were doing well. I’ve come back into pre-season now and I’m feeling fit and sharp so hopefully I stay injury free and show them what I can do.
“I’ve come in with the intention of completely forgetting about last year. There’s a new first team manager, a new U23 manager and that gives me a fresh chance to impress.”
Jordan has already played under two-times Arsenal double winner and 2003/04 ‘Invincible’, Ljungberg, in a pre-season tournament and enjoyed the experience.
“I went to Germany on a pre-season tour with the U23s and their new manager is Freddie Ljungberg and I get on well with him. He was really helpful and gave me great advice, conditioning wise and things to do during a game. It was good to get one-to-one coaching from a coach who has played at the highest level and has all that experience.
“Even talking to him was very easy. If I had any questions he was really down to earth and helpful. So just knowing that if they (U23s) need someone to come up and train they trust you to come up and join them gives you confidence.”
As former attacking midfielder, there’s doesn’t seem an over emphasis on defence in Ljungberg’s team, evidenced by an opening day 6-5 defeat to Man City so the skilful Derry lad might get a chance under the Swede. McEneff is highly rated by Arsenal’s Academy coaches but he knows raw talent must be matched by hard work and he’s not about to shirk that challenge.
“If I didn’t have pro contract there would’ve been a lot more pressure on me. Now I can enjoy my football and hopefully, in a year or two, I can get another deal. No matter what talent you have, if you’re not prepared to work hard then it’s not going to work out. I’m just working hard every day and hopefully, with that hard work behind me, it’ll let the talent shine through.”
Arsenal U18s travel to the Amex Elite Football Performance Centre on Saturday where they continue their U18 Premier League campaign against Brighton & Hove Albion.