Long read: Saliba on his lifelong love of Arsenal | Feature | News

There’s a complete technology of footballers – particularly from France – who grew up impressed through the magic of Thierry Henry. William Saliba, the one Frenchman in our first-team squad, was once no exception.

Born within the north-eastern Paris suburb of Bondy in 2001, William grew up idolising the mythical Gunners ahead, who would lead Arsenal out as captain 5 years later in 2006, within the Champions League last within the French capital, simply ten kilometres or so from our No. 12’s homeland.

By then William was once already soccer mad. He says he was once impressed to absorb the game purely for his love of the sport. Being in a position to play soccer full-time was once all he ever sought after to do.

“When I was a kid I was always playing football,” he says. “I simply cherished soccer, from every time I will take into accout. When I used to be 3 years outdated I sought after to change into a qualified footballer when I used to be older – it stayed as my dream for my entire lifestyles.

“It didn’t come from my family really, because they didn’t like football like I did,” he provides. “But they gave me a ball when I was a very small kid, and ever since that moment I was playing football. I didn’t really do any other sports – football was my favourite. I used to do athletics for a bit, just one year really, the sprint events, but I always played football, and joined a club when I was six years old.”

He says he cherished looking at it simply up to kicking a ball himself, and would watch the France nationwide crew in the beginning – Les Bleus had been reigning international and European champions when he was once born. Soon he were given extra into membership soccer. It was once a golden time for Arsenal as neatly, of path, and it was once a facet with distinctly French flavour. Little wonder, then, that we quickly turned into William’s favorite crew.

“When I used to be rising up I watched the entire Champions League video games. I couldn’t watch the opposite video games as a result of we didn’t have the entire channels, however that was once the 1st time I watched Arsenal, within the Champions League. Then I had an Arsenal blouse when I used to be about seven or 8 years outdated. I cherished looking at Arsenal.

“I had Henry on the again – he was once the only I seemed as much as probably the most. I cherished looking at him. Arsene Wenger was once the chief, so there have been so much of French connections with Arsenal. I take into accout looking at the massive Champions League video games, in opposition to Barcelona I take into accout, however the different video games too.”

Back then younger William sought after to develop as much as be identical to Thierry. He will have since advanced into one of the continent’s maximum promising younger defenders, however he in reality began out as a ahead – possibly now not sudden taking into account he was once coached through Kylian Mbappe’s father at his first membership.

“Where I’m from in France, everybody plays football,” he continues. “So much of giant footballers are from Bondy – Kylian Mbappe, Jonathan Ikone and quite a bit of others, so other people play so much of soccer there. I wasn’t all the time a defender. I used to be a striker, right through the academy, till I used to be 12 years outdated. I performed in midfield just a little as neatly, however I handiest turned into a defender once I modified membership.

“I joined a membership known as Montfermeil and that was once the age after we went to enjoying on a full-size pitch. The trainer there stated to me: ‘Let me try you at centre back,’ and from that second I didn’t exchange.

“I was always tall for my age so I liked playing there, and I started watching defenders more and more to learn from them. I watched all of the top defenders, wanting to learn from all of them, and at that time especially Virgil van Dijk was somebody I looked at, to learn from his game.”

‘Wilo’ quickly stepped forward to change into spoken about as an excellent central defender in his personal proper, and he was once on the transfer once more when he was once simply 15 – snapped up through Saint-Etienne, some 500km south of Paris. He became professional elderly 17 and was once immediately into the first-team in Ligue 1, making 16 appearances throughout his debut season.

That’s when Arsenal got here calling, and we gained the race for the highly-rated 18-year-old’s signature in July 2019. Despite hobby from in different places on the time, William says it was once a very easy resolution to make.

“This is a special club,” he says. “You know that when Arsenal is interested in you, you are going to be very happy. There was no decision to make – you don’t need to make a reflection – it was an easy choice. As soon as I knew Arsenal wanted me, I wanted to come here.”

However, arriving at Arsenal and enjoying at Arsenal proved to be two very other propositions. As section of the switch, he was once loaned again to Saint-Etienne for any other season to proceed his construction. The plan labored splendidly. He was once an ordinary starter till harm introduced his marketing campaign to a untimely finish, however through then he had helped his aspect succeed in their first French Cup last since 1982.

At the top of the season he returned to the Gunners, through now beneath the control of Mikel Arteta, and his first involvement with the first-team squad was once in opposition to Liverpool within the Community Shield at Wembley, albeit one the place he watched our victory from the bench as an unused replace.

It was once a time of giant exchange at Arsenal, with Arteta environment about remodelling the squad he had inherited, and there was once no house in our 25-man squad for the younger defender. So any other mortgage spell again in France adopted, this time at Nice, ahead of he spent the entire of the 2021/22 season at Marseille.

His construction persisted apace within the south of France. There he made greater than 50 appearances in all competitions, helped his aspect to the Europa Conference semi-final, confident Champions League qualification, was once named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year and likewise made his senior debut for France in a shocking 12 months. Little marvel that Arsenal supporters had been determined to peer him in any case run out within the purple and white this season.

“When I was on loan it helped motivate me every day knowing that Arsenal were watching me, were in touch with me, and that soon I would be back here,” he displays. “My function was once all the time to come back again and play right here, so I knew I needed to battle and paintings so much whilst I used to be clear of the membership if I sought after to come back again.

“Somebody from the membership was once involved with me each and every week, giving me recommendation, encouraging me and I knew they had been supporting me, even if I used to be in France.

“Also having the love of the fans behind me while I was on loan was very special for me and helped me a lot. I saw some of it on social media of course, and it made it easier for me to play. I want to give the fans something back now, to thank them for their support.”

He has been repaying them ever since making an outstanding debut – some 1,107 days after signing – in opposition to Crystal Palace on the outlet day. He began with a win at Emirates Stadium too, regardless that he netted an unlucky personal purpose in opposition to Leicester City in a 4-2 victory on his house debut, handiest to greater than make amends away to Bournemouth within the following fit. He scored a screamer with his left foot so as to add to his all-round defensive masterclass on the south coast.

It was once additionally the day his chant was once born: “I first heard the track throughout the 1st part, I used to be so satisfied. Very, more than pleased if truth be told, and it helped me so much to be targeted on the sport. It was once so excellent. After the sport I walked over to the lovers to mention thank you, as a result of they helped me all the way through that sport.

“But even in the Leicester game, they were supporting me. The reaction after the own goal meant a lot to me, but I don’t say I was surprised by it, because I know how good the fans are here. I really appreciated it, though – it was great to hear.”

He says the reception has helped him settle in London, the 1st time he’s ever lived outdoor of France, even supposing there are few facets of English lifestyles that he’s nonetheless adapting to.

“The food!” he laughs. “The meals is other, but it surely’s excellent as neatly right here. But I’m from Paris, so London isn’t so other, it’s any other town so I believe it’s very similar to France. The English individuals are other regardless that, and I’m nonetheless being used to the language, but it surely’s OK.

“My family have not been able to come and watch me play yet, just my friends so far, but my family will come soon, this month. I have one sister and one brother, and I speak to them all the time. They are happy with how it’s going right now – they love the song the fans have for me!”

Happy on the pitch and satisfied off it. Still handiest 21, there’s no query that William has a vibrant long run forward of him. His stories rising up, and throughout 3 fresh mortgage spells have all added to the total package deal, however now could be the time he desires to ship for the membership. His membership. 

“Yes, now I want to win everything,” he states. “I wish to lend a hand the membership to come back again to the very best. I can give the entirety for this membership to lend a hand us get again there.

“It has been laborious for me as neatly every now and then at Arsenal, now not enjoying always, however infrequently recreation is like this. You don’t handiest have excellent moments – it’s section of lifestyles. That’s all prior to now. Now I’m simply targeted on the prevailing and on the longer term. I wish to do my best possible for Arsenal and stay bettering and dealing laborious on a daily basis.”

Copyright 2022 The Arsenal Football Club %. Permission to make use of quotations from this text is granted topic to suitable credit score being given to www.arsenal.com because the supply.

Leave a Comment