WHEN 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri took the field on Sunday, the words “F*** me, we look old” from a Brentford player wearing Granit Xhaka were met.
The 29-year-old Arsenal midfielder is already preparing to hang up his boots and has even coached the student while he works on his badges.
When Nwaneri reaches Xhaka’s age, the Swiss hopes to be imposing as a grey-haired boss on the sidelines.
Nwaneri became the youngest player to play in the top flight of English football at just 15 years and 181 days when he came on as a substitute in the Gunners’ 3-0 win at Brentford.
He broke a record held for 58 YEARS by Sunderland’s Derek Forster, who made his league debut aged 15 and 185 days.
Nwaneri even had to change into his gear in a separate dressing room from his teammates due to child protection regulations.
Born in March 2007, he was not alive when Arsenal moved to the Emirates or when they played in their only Champions League final – a 2-1 loss to Barcelona – in 2006.
Xhaka said: “We have to check the passport first! I am joking. Having a man who is 15 and almost 15 years younger than me.
“He looks old when I see him but the club can be proud of a player like him.
“He has a great future. I’m doing my coaching license and have coached the U16s.
“You can see a big difference between him and the other guys. He’s very, very special.
“You have to protect him as he’s very young, but if he keeps up his hard work like this, he has a big, big future.
“I’m not the only one who feels old. I was talking to a Brenford guy and I told him this guy is 15 and he looked at me and said ‘fuck me we look old!’.
“When you’re 15 years apart, you’re like, ‘OK, time isn’t over, but it’s on the way.’ But we enjoy it, it enjoys us because it has the quality.
“He doesn’t train much with us. I’ve seen him maybe two or three times now.
“Of course he is very shy but the time will come when he will be with us more but you have to protect him and help him.
“Football is not everything for him and for us but yes the club will help him and the experienced players have to help him.”
Mainly used as a number 10, Nwaneri caught the attention of Gunners fans when he scored in his U18 debut last year aged just 14.
He was then promoted to first team training in the week after immediately impressing Emirates boss Mikel Arteta, who had a “pure gut feeling” to include him in his plans on Sunday.
Cesc Fabregas held the previous Arsenal record aged 16 years and 177 days when he faced Rotherham in a League Cup game in 2003.
Xhaka said: “Mikel is so smart and smart that he knows it in front of everyone. I take a lot from Mikel with my coaching and I enjoy it.
“Since last March. I’m trying to take my next step and I’m almost done with my B driver’s license. This week was twice as we didn’t have a midweek game. I enjoy it.”
Xhaka knows only too well how quickly fans can turn on players in the prem and that the club must protect Nwaneri.
On Sunday, when Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale urged the youngster towards the away game to a standing ovation, Xhaka’s name had just stopped blaring.
The Switzerland international clashed with fans in the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in 2019, which resulted in former captain Unai Emery stripping him of the captaincy.
He came close to leaving the Emirates on more than one occasion but his relationship with Arsenal fans is now better than ever.
When asked if he was emotional about fans chanting his name, Xhaka added, “Absolutely. I never thought that one day this would happen if I’m being honest.
“To stand in front of them, to have them sing my name, is very, very special and emotional. I always wanted that.
“I always wanted to give something back to them after what happened. We worked a lot to change their minds about what they had for me and I’m happy with what happened. There’s something else coming from me.
“After what happened again three years ago, it means a lot to me to be captain and to be in front of this team and to have the fans behind me.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6258009/arsenal-ethan-nwaneri-granit-xhaka/ “He’s ‘very, very special’ – Arsenal star and ‘manager’ Granit Xhaka praises storied prodigy Ethan Nwaneri