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George Lewis & Arsenal: Why this deal should inspire everyone connected to football

COMMENT: Football's about opinions. And not just between fans. It reaches the training pitch. The team sheet. It can even make or break careers. And nothing has epitomised this more in recent weeks than George Lewis and Arsenal...

Need a bit of hope? A bit motivation? Need to feel that door can still swing open for you? Then look no further than George Lewis. The kid from Rwanda. Raised in Norway. And given a shot at the very top of his craft by Arsenal.

No-one saw this. It wasn't supposed to happen. At least not according to those who'd worked with Lewis. The surprise. The disbelief. It leaps out at you via quotes from his past coaches. But this game. This industry. It is about opinions. And maybe, just maybe, what they couldn't see in Norway was spotted by those on the touchline at London Colney.

Jonathan Hill, who worked at both Manchester clubs and coached Lewis as a junior with Tromsdalen, admitted: “Why I'm surprised is that you have to look at why he's not made it in Norway, which is the 26th ranked country in Europe and no-one else has taken him apart from me - who saw something in him."

Orjan Berg Hansen, who took on Lewis while sporting director of Fram Larvik, has also remarked: "Yeah, it's a little surprising. He was only with us for a little while, but he has great potential. At the same time, he was a little rough and not quite ready for our level last year."

That "level" was the third tier of Norway's football pyramid - the same league that Tromsdalen were competing in when Lewis was on their books. At the time his agent was able to organise trials for the 19 year-old in London, Lewis was a free agent and keeping fit with Second Division Floya in Tromso. Even then, they didn't think of offering him terms.

But in London and away from the pre-judgement. The set ideas. Lewis thrived. A week's trial with the Gunners was extended to two. And at the end of that fortnight, the winger had done enough to earn an offer on the spot. Steve Bould had seen enough. Mikel Arteta had only heard good things. If it all runs as planned, Lewis will be joining Bould's U23 squad next season.

But should this really be such a surprise? This is football. And much of it is based on opinions. As mentioned, in Norway, Lewis had his reputation. In England, he was working from a blank script. And even more importantly, so were the Arsenal coaching staff.

There's plenty taking credit for him today, but there was never a guarantee Scott McTominay would make it at Manchester United. These days he's being tipped as a future United captain. Brian McClair, the former United striker and academy director, claimed just this week McTominay could go down as a "club legend".

But it took the intervention of an outsider to see - and most importantly back - McTominay's potential. Before Jose Mourinho gave McTominay his chance, there was no youth caps on the mantle piece. Both Scottish and English scouts had ignored the Lancaster lad. And even at United, he was more an afterthought. Played out of position. Thrown up front for a season in the U23s with no natural striker to call on. Those who were there at the time may claim otherwise, but there was never any long-term planning to develop McTominay as the box-to-box midfielder we see today. That is, until Mourinho stepped in.

So for McTominay, why not Lewis? This deal isn't as much out of the blue as has been portrayed. As much as it mattered that he take his chance in those March trials, Lewis had been on Arsenal's radar since the New Year.

"They spotted me playing here at home in Tromsø during the Itromsø Cup this winter," revealed the youngster upon his return home to Tromso. "I trained with the A team. It was huge."

For his part, Hill can understand what caught the eye of Bould and co: “He's got some really outstanding qualities, but he's also raw. If this happens, it's brilliant because he does have some talent."

And that's just it, Arsenal are signing Lewis for their U23s. Great, raw pace. A couple of tricks in his locker, "he likes a stepover", says Hill, there's enough there for Bould and his staff to work with. And it's an opportunity for Lewis to carve out a new story for himself and build a new reputation.

This is what football, more than anyother industry, offers you. The chance to turn the page and try again. The next game. The next training session. A new coach. A different scout. It's all opinions and should give any player with the belief to keep striving.

It was enough for George Lewis - and look how far that hope has taken him...

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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