Of all the promising talent emerging from Arsenal’s academy, goalkeeper Ryan Huddart represents one of the brightest lights.
The 17-year-old grabbed the headlines back in November when he was included in Arsene Wenger’s matchday squad for the Champions League encounter against Anderlecht. That topped off a great year in which the former Gillingham and Charlton academy player, who stands at 6 ft 5, was a regular feature in the Gunners’ under-21 side and signed his first professional contract with the club back in March 2014. Now the Margate-born stopper, capped at youth level for England, is targeting a more regular spot in Wenger’s first team plans.
I recently spoke to him, on behalf of Shoot Magazine, about his progression, his time around Arsenal’s senior squad and his ambitions for next year.
You were at Charlton’s academy before joining arsenal. What were the first differences you noticed between the two clubs?
“The egos of the players, staff and parents is completely different. At Arsenal, you know you are at a top club and you are constantly reminded of that by the players, staff and parents of other youth players”.
You’ve been in the Arsenal set up for a while now. Is the club’s passing style of play something that is drilled into the academy players?
“From a young age it definitely is, especially when Liam Brady was at the club. He drilled it in the under 9s straight through to the reserves. Now I think it’s a more general way of how football should be played, but different to the way a club like Chelsea would teach their kids – still playing football but at the right times to play football. If you watch the first team they sometimes overplay and get caught out but they generally don’t and have gotten a lot better over the last few years”.
How often does Arsene Wenger watch youth games?
“He comes to every reserve team game, every FA Youth Cup game and every under-19 Champions League home game. He’s very hands-on in that way and it’s nice that he is showing an interest – it gives all of us a boost.”
Due to your size, have you always been a goalkeeper and were you into any other sports growing up?
“I’ve always been a goalkeeper and I did enjoy basketball a lot when I was at school but I never had time to take it seriously because I was always playing football. I’ve played at centre-back and up front before and I’d rather play a centre-back!”
How much did it mean to you to be named in a match day squad?
“It was a dream come true. It was all a bit surreal; it had come really quickly. You don’t get told months before that you’re going to be on the bench, you get told days before, but it was a very nice feeling.”
Although you didn’t get on what was the experience like to be involved, especially on a Champions League night?
“When we were away at Anderlecht it was a great experience because the Anderlecht fans were noisy all night and really passionate. To be around the first team was good too because, at the time, we were having some good results so morale was high. I wasn’t really fazed by being around the first team, I just wanted to get on the pitch”.
What have you learnt from the likes of Ospina, Martinez and Szczęsny?
“From watching Ospina and Martinez I’ve learnt to be steady as a goalkeeper – they’re both extremely steady goalkeepers and rarely make mistakes. You won’t see Ospina running off his line or putting himself in a position to make mistakes. They are very professional as well, something you don’t necessarily get with a youth goalkeeper.”
What is it like to train with those guys and players like Sanchez and Cazorla?
“I loved training with Alexis and Lukas Podolski, they’re the best players I’ve ever trained with. Alexis is the best finisher ever and Lukas has the best left foot I’ve ever seen. At the end of training the players usually stand outside the 18 yard box, get a load of balls and just start shooting and Podolski has a very accurate left foot. There are some great characters within the first team; I get on well with Jack (Wilshere), Per (Mertesacker), Olivier (Giroud). I’ve been lucky to work with Per a lot, he’s a great leader and you learn a lot from him as a player and as a professional.”
You were a regular in the under 21s last season. How pleasing was that for you?
“It was very pleasing, because I was only 16 and to be in the squad every week was a great feeling. This year I hope to play more and more but its difficult because we have a lot of goalkeepers.”
You’ve also been capped at youth level for England. Continuing that is obviously a big dream of yours…?
“Hopefully I can stay involved with England because I enjoyed playing. I’ve been lucky because the last two or three times I haven’t been with the England under-18s, those have usually been weeks when the senior internationals occur. So I’ve usually gone with the Arsenal first team for the whole time and I’ve gotten more out of training with the first team at Arsenal than I would have got playing for England’s under-18s.”
You’ve said that your footballing hero is Jens Lehmann. Do you model your game on his?
“I’ve got two favourite goalkeepers: Jens and Brad Friedel. I was very lucky to work with Jens for about a year when he was doing his coaching badges and took sessions for the under-18s. He helped me a lot; he was very hands on. But I don’t model my game on his, I model mine more on Brad’s because I grew watching Brad Friedel games than Jens Lehmann games. His longevity has really impressed me – he has played so well for so long and never makes any mistakes. The best goalkeepers are very steady and Brad is one of those.”
Arsenal has produced a number of home grown players over the years, including Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs. Does that give youth players more belief in their own chances?
“Definitely. With Arsenal, more so than any other club in the Premier League, the boss is prepared to give you a chance and he is not scared to either, especially when other managers would go for more experience than youth. You have to take your hat off to him because there aren’t many who would.
What are your goals for 2015?
“Just to keep doing what I’m doing. If I can keep progressing gradually rather than having a topsy-turvy year it would be great year for me. I’d be open to go on loan maybe at the start of next season if the opportunity comes, but the aim is to keep improving at a steady pace.”