A deafening crowd, a hoarse atmosphere – it’s all just part of the job for Bukayo Saka. “Big crowds don’t bother me,” he says as he looks back on silencing opposition supporters, playing behind closed doors and inspiring his own fans.
Everyone who has been to the Emirates Stadium this season has felt it – a buzz in the air, a renewed hope, even a sense of anticipation, not necessarily that Arsenal will conquer the world yet, but that this club is just beginning to build. something special.
Young players are key to that. They emit energy, and that energy feeds the crowd, which in turn gives those young players the confidence to express themselves on the field. They represent the future of the club – a future that, thanks to its youth, is not hampered by the failures of the past – and you could reasonably argue that no player represents the hope and expectation of this future Arsenal era more than an Academic graduate. Bukayo Saka. .
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If that’s a burden, you wouldn’t know it by hearing the 20-year-old speak. He doesn’t seem to feel pressure.
“I wouldn’t say I’m worried about large crowds,” he says for example, before recalling one specific foreign trip that was instrumental in his football education. “When we went to Frankfurt away in the Europa League, I would say that was one of the craziest atmospheres I’ve ever been in. Even before the game my ears rang, it was so loud. I was like, ‘Alas, this is amazing,’ and I went and had a good game. I actually enjoyed it. “
That was September 2019, and Bukayo was sensational that night. He first set up Joe Willock to open the scoring for 38 minutes, then curved home his first senior goal of 20 yards on 85 minutes before still finding time to provide the pass, of which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added a third to complete an impressive 3-. 0 victory. A new star was born, but only a few months later Covid-19 was hit, football was stopped and when it returned matches took place behind closed doors.
“I can’t imagine doing that again,” he says. “The fans complete the atmosphere – they make you feel full all day – and the energy you get from the fans makes a big difference. I don’t want to do it again.
“I don’t feel the pressure to play in front of a big crowd,” Bukayo adds. “No matter how many people are in the stadium, you know the game is broadcast and there could be millions of people around the world watching you. For me, I’d say I’m my biggest critic, so before anyone else Criticize me, I’ve done it myself and told myself to do better. Large crowds don’t bother me. “
This would also explain why the youngster was so at home on the Wembley stage for England during last summer’s European Championships, and it talks a lot about him that rather than caring about the way England’s defeat in the final, he is concentrating about what it meant. get there in the first place.
“Wembley is probably my favorite stadium,” he admits. “If I remember correctly, my English debut was behind closed doors, but it was still special because I grew up near Wembley and I was always used to seeing it from the track beyond, so making my debut for my country was amazing.”
By the way, he remembers correctly – Bukayo’s England debut came when he started a 3-0 win over Wales at an empty national stadium in October 2020, just over a year after he lit up the Frankfurt Stadium. You get the feeling that his memory is the sign of a sharp and analytical mind that, in addition to being self-critical, keeps all the ups and downs, and all the moves that come out, as well as the lows.
“I think Wembley at the Euros was one of the best atmospheres,” he added – and he will say that about a tournament that could have ruined his confidence before this season – before aiming to praise our own supporters: “But this that season the Emirates were also special. “
One match obviously stands out in his own mind, and it’s one of what he says is the relatively few games he’s watched since. “I’ll just look back or watch a match again if we had a really good game. For example, the North London derby – I’ve respected that a few times. But I wouldn’t normally say I go and look at myself again and again. ”
This is another suggestion that all the self-analysis Bukayo needs is going on in his head, and that the memories are locked away for future reference. He doesn’t need the ego boost to watch himself on TV, because for him there are always many other footballers to watch.
“It’s hard to say exactly how much football I watch during the week because it depends on when we play, but if I’m free, I’ll definitely watch the two live games on Saturday,” he says. “I mostly watch the Premier League but if it’s a big match in LaLiga, the Bundesliga or the French league, I’ll watch it.”
Surprisingly, perhaps, for someone who grew up idolizing Thierry Henry and later, as a young professional, Alexis Sanchez in his Arsenal boss, the young Bukayo’s first experience of live football came a long way from north London.
“I’m not sure I should really say this, but probably the first big game I remember going to was when my dad took me to Old Trafford when I was little,” he says. “I have to say, though, that it was really nice because there are some special players who have played there in the past, so it was nice to go and watch a football game there with my family.”
It was also the ground where, famously, Arsenal clinched the league title in 2001/02, although Bukayo says that if he could attend any match in history it would be a different title celebration. “If I had to pick one Arsenal match, I would probably want to watch us win the league at White Hart Lane in 2004. That would be so sick to watch, I think, and the vibes afterwards must have been amazing. So I would choose that game for selfish reasons, but I have to say that if I could be present in any game just for entertainment, it would be Barcelona against PSG in the Champions League since 2017. “
This is not the kind of game that anyone who has seen it will probably ever forget. This was when Barcelona, behind PSG 4-0 after a first leg beating in France, completed the most unlikely comebacks to win 6-1 on the night, despite still trailing 5-3 overall in the 88th minute. Two goals in three minutes from Neymar and a 96th minute winner from Sergi Roberto created a Champions League history.
“That’s probably my favorite game ever as a football fan – a fan of the game, rather than a club – because it was a really entertaining game and such a wonderful comeback,” Bukayo adds.
Such nights are a reminder of why football is the greatest sport in the world, and our No7 clearly feels little need to look beyond the beautiful game. “I don’t really watch other sports away from football,” he says. “If it’s a big basketball game, I might watch it, but the problem is that the games are happening so late that I really can’t watch them.”
Much better, then, to go watch them in person, and Bukayo can’t help but get excited when he looks back on his last trip to a sporting event that didn’t involve the day’s work. “I’ve been to an NBA game before when I went to America, and that was really good. I really enjoyed it.
“I saw the LA Clippers against the Dallas Mavericks because I was in LA at the time. I actually wanted to see the LA Lakers but they were exhausted, so I went to see the Clippers instead and there were still some great players on the show: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, it was a good game.
“According to sporting events I would like to go to someday, I’m not a big fan of the Superbowl or anything like that, but I’d like to go to the NBA Finals at the court,” he adds. “I think that would be the craziest sporting experience you could have.”
The atmosphere at big NBA games can certainly warm up, especially the closer you are to the court, but in football terms Bukayo can’t see anyone matching English fans because of his loyalty and passion.
“Obviously I haven’t played in any other league, but I’ve played abroad for Arsenal and England, and I think you realize wherever you go, both here and abroad, how passionate English fans are and how much they love football. It’s true obviously when you go to a stadium how much the fans want their team to win. “
We know that level of support can have its downsides, for example when passion overwhelms the brand on social media and becomes something much darker, but Bukayo has long impressed the players and coaches around him with his maturity and calm authority. He is well educated, well educated and it shows. As a result he is comfortable meeting fans, even when it is least expected.
“I actually met a fan yesterday when I went to my local store – a kid who wanted a picture,” he recalls laughing. “Then his father came to me later and told me we had to step down because we lost the last two games! It’s usually positive when I meet fans, but this one was a little different!”
Luckily he says it with a smile and the message seemed to be one of mostly polite encouragement rather than abuse. And fortunately, fans seem to be respectful personally, as there is no hiding place.
“I think the strangest experience I’ve had with a fan must have been before the Covid restrictions were eased,” he says. “I wore a hat down over my eyebrows and a mask all the way up over my nose, so literally the only thing you could see was my eyes, and a fan came up to me and said, ‘Hello, Bukayo.’ I did my best to hide my face and cover my mouth so I could go out in public, and he still saw me, I don’t understand how he could have known it was me!
“I didn’t realize until recently what effect it had on people – how happy they are to see me – so when I see fans I try to give them some time, to be respectful and to greet, to converse,” he adds.
Supporters really appreciate such a player’s approach, and the word does circulate, but ultimately what you do on the field will determine the strength of the league you create with your fans, for whatever club you play for. Bukayo should feel satisfied that he already has his name immortalized in a song.
“Sure!” he agrees. “It sounds funny but it’s always been one of my dreams to have my own song – when I grew up and came to the stadiums there were a lot of special songs and I always wanted to have mine. It’s nice when I hear fans sing my name and it definitely gives I play that acceleration even better.
“I’m obviously sharing the song with Emile, but I don’t mind – it’s nice to share it with someone who came with me from Hale End. The fans support us both and we just want to give our all for the team. “
Those young players, with your support, express themselves in style. Long live it.
- Bukayo Saka
- Squad number
- September 5, 2001 / Ealing
- National team
- Arsenal debut
- v Vorskla Poltava (a), Europa League, November 29, 2018 (won 3-0)
- First goal
- v Eintracht Frankfurt (a), Europa League, September 19, 2019 (won 3-0)
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