The Arsenal youngster was written off by the former
United manager but has bounced back in style and
will start Saturday’s derby against Tottenham
Turn to page 304 of Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography and you will find one solitary mention
of Francis Coquelin. It comes in reference to
Manchester United’s 8-2 demolition of Arsenal in
2011 and his observations are brutal. “Arsenal
played a young boy in midfield; Francis Coquelin,”
wrote Ferguson. “He was completely out of his depth.
I had hardly heard of him and he barely played
For most of the three years that followed, it seemed
that Ferguson’s prophecy would come true. Coquelin
was largely peripheral at Arsenal and loan spells at
Freiburg and then Charlton Athletic appeared to be a
prelude to him departing once his contract expired at the end of this season.
He was relaxing in front of the television and. thinking only about how he could help Charlton beat Blackpool the following Saturday when the call came that would transform his career. It was from Arsène Wenger and the unexpected message was to report back to Arsenal’s London Colney training base the following morning. With Mikel Arteta and Jack
Wilshere injured, Coquelin was told that he would go
straight into the squad to face Newcastle United in
less than 48 hours. “I had trained with the Charlton
team all week,” he says. “It’s weird because the way it
happened was so sudden.”
Coquelin duly came on as a substitute in Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Newcastle on Dec 13 and, in the two months since, has become central both to Wenger’s short and long-term planning. He will be among the first names on Arsenal’s teamsheet to start against Tottenham this lunchtime and his considerable contribution to a run of nine wins in 11 matches has
been rewarded with a new four-year contract.
“One of the most unexpected comebacks of the year,” wrote the French sports newspaper L’Equipe on Friday.
“That’s the magic of football,” said Coquelin. “One
day you are unknown – the next you are a bit bigger.”
It has certainly been a reminder of how the development of young footballers is rarely predictable or smooth. Now 23, Coquelin always had plenty of potential. Arsenal scout Gilles Grimandi first identified him while he was playing for the France Under-17 team against Israel. He was signed following a trial in 2008 and was part of the France team who won the Under-19 European Championship. In 2009, he also helped Arsenal to win the FA Youth Cup and Premier Academy League.
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