If local players give a club an edge in a derby, Tottenham should be victorious at White Hart Lane this weekend. While Arsenal will be without a north London native, Tottenham will have Chingford’s Harry Kane leading the line and, either starting or off the bench, depending on Mousa Dembélé’s fitness, Enfield’s Ryan Mason in midfield. They may also have another Enfield boy, Josh Onomah, on the bench.
This disparity highlights a surprising statistic. Arsène Wenger may be known for encouraging young players but he has not brought through to regular first-team football a single north Londoner in two decades. The last such player to appear regularly for the Gunners was Paul Merson, who emerged under George Graham nearly 30 years ago.
Subsequently a number of local boys, including Fabrice Muamba, Jerome Thomas, Sanchez Watt and Emmanuel Frimpong have reached the first team, but none has made a lasting impact. Another, Bournemouth’s Benik Afobe, did not even make a debut.
This failure to bring on players from their doorstep has been offset by impressive recruitment from abroad (notably France, then Spain) and from south and east London. Tony Adams and Ray Parlour were from Romford, Ashley Cole from Stepney, David Rocastle from Lewisham.
Of the current English home-grown pros, Jack Wilshere is from Hertfordshire (and was initially at Luton) while Lambeth-born Kieran Gibbs arrived from Wimbledon’s youth system after the club upped sticks to Milton Keynes. However, closer to home, in Wembley, Raheem Sterling was discovered by Queen’s Park Rangers.
It is one of the oddities of the capital that south and east London appear to produce more footballers than the north and west, to the benefit of Crystal Palace and West Ham United. However, besides Kane, Mason and Onomah, Tottenham also unearthed from their patch Andros Townsend and Jake Livermore. Townsend was sold to Newcastle for £12m this year, Livermore to Hull for £8m, enough to keep Spurs’ youth development and scouting systems going for a few years.
Arsenal have been overhauling their youth system under Dutchman Andries Jonker, who was recruited in 2014. However, they could be close to featuring a local on a regular basis in Alex Iwobi. Though born in Lagos and already a Nigeria international, the striker was brought up in north London and has been with Arsenal since he was at primary school.