By Lambros Lambrou
A debut for the Arsenal first team in front of a 47,000 crowd could be quite a daunting prospect, but 17 year-old Fabrice Muamba just took it all in his lengthy stride.
Comparisons between Fabrice’s style and that of Patrick Vieira were re-affirmed during the Carling Cup victory against Sunderland. Such suggestions potentially put the youngster under unfair pressure, but at the same time there is no getting away from the fact that the two players have so much in common in their style of play, with and without the ball, and, apparently, their attitude too: "I didn’t really feel nervous before the game because I had so many players and coaches encouraging me and I felt quite confident," Fabrice says. "Mr Wenger spoke to me before the game and asked me if I was nervous. I explained that I don’t tend to get nervous before matches.
"The Boss then smiled and just told me to enjoy the game and do what I was good at," recalls the tough tackling midfielder, continuing, "I think we played a good game all round. But it took me about 20 minutes or so to settle in. I think after that I played well on and off the ball.
"I’ve played with Alex Song a few times together in midfield and we work well together. Alex tends to go forward more than I do and we complement each other well. I think there was a good mix of youth and experience and that was the big difference. Sunderland had a more experienced team but we were very determined to show what we could do and I think that was a big factor.
"I have also to thank Sol Campbell," says Fabrice. "Sol was playing behind me and he had a good picture of the game. He would give me words of encouragement throughout the match but would also pass on suggestions about how to deal with certain situations if they arose and that helped me massively," declares the teenager.
"By the time we scored our first goal I think we were in complete control and it felt like Sunderland had given up and the crowd wasn’t really a factor. I really began to relax and enjoy the game and it was a great experience for me."
Much is made of the gulf between youth and reserve team football as compared to first team matches, but Fabrice’s impression after last Tuesday’s game was that the gap wasn’t as wide as he had previously believed. "It is true that you have less time because you are closed down quicker and the ball is moved around faster. You have to think ahead more, but I honestly believed that the match would be even faster and even more physical.
"There is obviously more pressure to get things right because any mistakes are more costly to the Club than they would be in an Under-18s game and the crowd will let you know if you make a mistake, but I felt comfortable. It was a valuable experience for me, which has given me a big boost especially as the boss congratulated me after the game."
Fabrice has been receiving rave reviews for his performances in the reserves, so much so that the England Youth International, who began the season as a second year scholar, was awarded a professional contract a couple of weeks ago: "That was really pleasing. I felt that I had been doing well and getting a contract made me feel proud. I now have to carry on doing well, keep on improving to get my next contract and more first team games. I want to enjoy the experience of first team football again and again."
My hero...Patrick Vieira
"I didn’t really have any heroes when I was growing up in Congo, I didn’t know much about football. But when I came to Arsenal I started to look at Patrick Vieira, because I thought this guy has great vision for the game, I can learn from him. I still watch him for Juventus at times."
[ Wednesday, November 02, 2005]