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Jakub Jankto: Why Arsenal joined by Chelsea, AC Milan in race for 'new Pavel Nedved'

Inspired by Tomas Rosicky. Admired by Pavel Nedved. Is it any wonder Arsenal are ready to take the plunge on Jakub Jankto next month?

At 21 and with three battle hardened years of senior Italian football under his belt, Jankto himself feels ready to make the jump from Udinese to a bigger stage. And by the admission of his agent, the experienced Beppe Riso, Arsenal's interest couldn't be more timely.

"Jakob loves English football, he still has time to change and currently only concentrates on Udinese," Riso declared at beginning of this season. "Over time we will see, but it is true that the Premier League is the greatest attraction for him."

That was then. And today, the now is Arsenal's scouts being spotted at Udinese's rout of Crotone last week. The subject of their interest? Well, going into the game it could've been anyone. But at the final whistle, it was Jankto and his two goals everyone was talking about.

"These two goals (the Zebrette won the game 3-0) I give to my team. We needed this win. It was important," declared Jankto, before being pushed about the Arsenal representatives in the stands.

"I have always said that I do not want to spend my entire career in Italy," he replied with a wink to Arsene Wenger, "but at the moment I play for Udinese every week and that is important for my development."

That development was largely driven by Gigi Delneri, Udinese's wily, old former coach who lost his job last month to Massimo Oddo. It was Delneri who gave Jankto, after a season away with Ascoli, his big break a year ago, carving out a place for the young midfielder in his first XI.

"With Delneri there was the possibility to play by taking advantage of the unavailability of some players - and I took my chances well," recalls Jankto. "This obviously gave me confidence and greater belief. After that, things began falling into place for me.

"He played me centrally. I had more time and space - I could show what I was capable of."

Delneri admits seeing Jankto's potential now being recognised across Europe has him bursting.

"It gives me a source of pride," says the 67 year-old. "To see him now playing for his country is proof of a job well done.

"As soon as I put him in the team, he realised he had to change. He had to take more responsibility. At that moment, he knew he was no longer a kid. He was a proper footballer."

At home, they know they're witnessing the development of something special. Though at official level, Czech Republic officials have been eager to temper the hype around Jankto.

While a star at youth level with the national team, it wasn't until he was playing regularly for Delneri that Jankto earned his first cap.

Vaclav Jilek, who worked with Jankto with the Czech Republic, admits the coaching staff have pushed the player since he made his debut in March.

"We all expect 100 per cent more from Jakub," says Jilek. "We know his ability and what he is capable of.

"He has great potential and needs to show it. But he has a good head on his shoulders and understands these expectations.

"He knows what his country needs from him."

Former Banik Ostrava coach Martin Pulpit, who is close to the legendary Zdenek Zeman, is convinced Jankto is ready for the bigger stage.

"I watch the Italian League regularly and I can say that he did not disappoint in any matches I saw. What's more, he looks like he belongs playing with better players," says Pulpit.

"Jankto did not go with any publicity, leaving as an unknown young man. But at the moment I find him the most exciting."

Pulpit is talking about a generation of young Czech Republic footballers which also include Roma striker Patrick Schick and Ladislav Krejci, of Bologna.

Schick earned his move from Sampdoria last summer and Pulpit can see the same happening for Jankto in 2018.

"Udinese are a team that tries to buy talented players, educate them, and then make a profit. Young people get a chance there and it is up to them to make the most of it," he adds.

"In the recent game with Inter Milan, he was outstanding. He belonged there. If his progress continues we'll be seeing a very big player develop."

And that's what Arsenal are banking on. Though they're not alone in their interest, with AC Milan and now Chelsea making checks on Jankto after the Gunners' interest was made public.

For Ballon d'Or winner Pavel Nedved, the interest is justified. Just as he learned his craft in Italy with the likes of Lazio and Juventus, the Czech Republic icon sees Jankto doing the same.

"Jankto in Udine is doing a great job. You can see he won't be staying there much longer. He's set to have a very big career," says Nedved.

"Italy is perfect for young players like him. They can learn and if you're successful there, you can play in any league in the world."

Including, as Jakub Jankto hopes, the Premier League.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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