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Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Arsenal signed me off a park

Ainsley Maitland-Niles has revealed he was signed by Arsenal off a park.

The versatile midfielder, then just seven years old, was playing up front for local side Lakeview when he was first spotted by our scouts.

“I was playing in the park," he told Arsenal Player. “They didn't say anything to me but when I was sat in the car after the game, my dad turned around to me in the back seat and told me that there were scouts watching me.

“He didn't exactly say who, but he told me that there were a few clubs watching me. I didn't think anything of it at the time because I didn't think about academies back then. I was just thinking that football was fun.

“I remember at my first Hale End trial there were loads of kids there," Maitland-Niles added. “There were about 60 or 70 kids and we were split up into different teams. There were lots of pitches with different matches going on at the same time.

“Now, I'd put joining the academy in the same category as making my first-team debut because now I know how much it really means to play for Arsenal. To go out there at Emirates Stadium every week is an amazing feeling.

“I don't think I knew how much [joining Arsenal's academy] meant to me back then but if I heard that about my own kid, if I had one, I'd be over the moon. I know how much it really means and what sort of pathway it can lead you to."

About the author

Paul Vegas

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