The Arsenal Way at Albion SC
Notable English club Arsenal FC continues to search for the next promising talent — and with the help of PUMA, the highly respected English Premier League (EPL) club has affiliations with select American youth soccer organizations providing a whole new pool of prospects.
Now, the Gunners take a look at the latest talent within these organizations and helps American youths learn the Arsenal way — with a goal of identifying elite players who could put their skills to the test at Arsenal’s London Academy.
San Diego’s Albion SC is well known for developing world class players and it’s strong commitment to creating dynamic player development opportunities. Albion SC has several coaches and youth players in England right now training at Arsenal FC.
Traveling to visit Southern California’s premier Albion SC youth soccer club, Bob Jenkins chatted with Diane Scavuzzo on the sideline — on the development of top soccer athletes in the United States and Arsenal FC’s search for promising future talent.
Jenkins is the former U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) Director of Coaching Education and was the U18 US Men’s National Team Head Coach. A former college head coach as well, Jenkins is the Puma Elite powered by Arsenal program director. Jenkins has a USSF Youth Technical Director License, USSF A Coaching License, as well as a National Youth License.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you tell me about the Arsenal FC youth soccer training at Albion SC?
Bob Jenkins: This is part of the program that PUMA runs — because of their partnership with EPL’s Arsenal FC – and my job is to be the guy that delivers the technical piece. I work with the players to learn The Arsenal Way — so to speak.
Diane Scavuzzo: This is the Puma Elite powered by Arsenal program which focuses on player development, coach education and player identification? How many clubs are included now?
Bob Jenkins: There are only three – one in Cleveland, Virginia and San Diego.
Albion SC is the youth soccer club I worked with since the beginning of this program. Cleveland is the newest club, Cleveland Internationals.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the end goal of this elite program?
Bob Jenkins: The goal is that out of this, Arsenal FC will find a player that they would sign. Arsenal’s contribution to this program includes providing access to their facilities, their staff and their player development curriculum.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think American youth soccer players have caught up with their European counterparts a little bit?
Bob Jenkins: There are a lot more competent players in the USA today.
But what I don’t see is — with the exception of a guy like Christian Pulisic — are the players like Claudio Reyna or Tab Ramos or Landon Donovan.
Players that are bubbling up through the system. Donovan was pretty young when he hit the scene, same with Pulisic and Claudio.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think of the level of play at Albion SC?
Bob Jenkins: We’ve been able to find some good players here. I think the three years I’ve been associated with Albion SC, they do a good job of training players.
I think San Diego is like a lot of markets in the United States where it is so disorganized and there are players at lots of different clubs, and some of the clubs are not focused on moving the kids along. Albion SC does a good job of finding the kids and bringing them in.
Diane Scavuzzo: You’ve been able to take players over to train at Arsenal FC in England?
Bob Jenkins: Yes, we take youth players over every year. I’ll come out here to visit Albion SC about once a month to take a look at the players. I’ll run a training session with them – part of what I do is run sessions with the kids, as well as help the trainers.
These Arsenal training sessions are set up to be run once or twice a week. There’s a group of kids at a certain age group – this year we are focusing on 2003s – and they will train in specific sessions.
When I come in, part of what I do is help the trainers understand what they are doing in order to run the session the correct way.
Each of the clubs have at least one designated trainer – sometimes there are two or three guys, like at Albion SC.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does the Arsenal FC way of training focus on?
Bob Jenkins: Arsenal FC focuses on the technical piece — in very deliberate ways. Arsenal FC wants their players to have a lot of different options with the ball. It is important to train players different ways of controlling the ball with different parts of their feet and body.
Then, it is being able to focus on what’s going on in the game as opposed to what’s going on at your feet.
The more confident a player is with the ball, the less they worry about what they are doing with the ball and the more they can concentrate on awareness.
Diane Scavuzzo: What age group are you focusing on now?
Bob Jenkins: Each year this changes. It started with ’01s, then the ’02s the second year. This year, the focus is on the ’03 and younger. The majority of kids who are going over to Arsenal FC are ’03’s, but then there are some ’04 and ’05’s.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why are you interested in the 2003s?
Bob Jenkins: What we tried to do originally is take an age group that is young enough that you can make a difference — with the idea that if anybody does well, the Arsenal guys know them and can track their progress. I’m also keeping track of the ’02’s and ’01’s from previous years.
Diane Scavuzzo: How likely do you think it is that Arsenal FC will find a player they want to sign?
Bob Jenkins: It is a very difficult road.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why is it so difficult?
Bob Jenkins: You’re talking about a whole different world here in the USA as opposed to Europe. There are a couple factors that are difficult, but I think the idea is to track the kids and see how they develop. Obviously, it’s more challenging for a player to develop to that level in the United States as opposed to if they were in Europe.
And, one of the biggest factors is that the player needs to have a British or EU Passport.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think the focus on technical is stalling creativity?
Bob Jenkins: The focus on technical should help creativity if done correctly. Helping players become more technical should open up a lot of options for them.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think the U.S. Soccer Development Academy has helped improve player development?
Bob Jenkins: Yes, the Development Academy has helped move player development forward in a lot of different places — but in a country of this size, I don’t know that there are any perfect answers.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the challenges for better player development in America?
Bob Jenkins: Every market will still have non-academy clubs that will have good players. These players are comfortable and don’t want to leave the area.
It’s a big country. You try to say let’s do it the way European countries do, but America is so large, youth players travel great distances to play — when a team goes from Connecticut to Virginia, it is practically the same distance as traveling in Europe to a different country.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does the huge size of our country impact player identification?
Bob Jenkins: I had a conversation with these guys from the Portuguese Football Federation. They were talking about how difficult it is to compete if you’re in Portugal because of their population along the coast is spread out in a couple of cities. They were saying; they would love to have the number of players we have. Yes, but it’s not as simple as that because our players are really all over the place.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think of Albion SC as a youth soccer club?
Bob Jenkins: When I visit, I watch and train the players at Albion SC. Then I go to different U.S. Soccer Development Academy Showcase events and Albion SC teams always do very well.
Albion SC has great players in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy program.
Diane Scavuzzo: And, Albion SC’s Technical Director Noah Gins?
Bob Jenkins: Through Noah’s leadership, Albion SC has consistently provided a top development program for their players and consistently produces national level players who excel in college, professional leagues and national teams.
Noah is a great guy who has put together a good group of coaches who are very loyal to him and work very hard developing the kids.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the real difference between the clubs?
Bob Jenkins: There is a lot of difference between the youth clubs. Different clubs have different structural set ups, some are run by their boards, while some are owner operated. Some have their own facility, others rent various fields for practice — but all three clubs in this Puma Elite powered by Arsenal program are focused on working with their players to develop them to be their best.
“Our relationship with Arsenal FC through Puma is one of a kind,” says Gins. “The access inside Arsenal, the opportunities our players gain, the knowledge that is shared from Bob Jenkins is extremely valuable and really something that you could only dream about.”
“We have players annually being flown over to London, we have site visits every 4-5 weeks from the Arsenal scout, and then we get invitations to bring our players to special events hosted by Puma with full attendance from Arsenal staff and youth academy and other World Class Pro Clubs such as Borussia Dortmund BVB,” says Gins.
“I can’t tell you how much this has progressed the club, our players, and the pathway for player development.”