Charlie Patino: Could Arsenal wonderkid be Hale End's best-ever graduate?
The long list of success stories to emerge from Arsenal’s Hale End academy in recent years is something everyone connected to the club is understandably very proud about.
From Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere to Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, vast numbers have progressed through the ranks in north London to go on and represent the first team at Emirates Stadium since the turn of the century.
The huge investment that has been pumped into revolutionising Hale End has certainly paid off, with Mikel Arteta’s current senior squad featuring nine players who were at some point schooled in the academy.
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And scratch beneath the surface a bit and you will find a host of youngsters waiting in the wings to follow in their footsteps, some of whom such as Omari Hutchinson and Jack Henry-Francis have already tasted first-team action during pre-season this summer.
But if you ask around about who the most exciting young prospect is at Arsenal right now, you will invariably get the same answer: Charlie Patino.
Injury frustratingly robbed the 17-year-old midfielder of a chance to impress during the first-team’s pre-season trip to Scotland, but if he continues on his current trajectory then it will not be long before everyone knows Patino's name.
“Of all the years I’ve been scouting, he’s the best kid I’ve ever seen,” Brian Stapleton, the Arsenal scout who first spotted Patino while he was playing for Luton Town, tells Goal in an exclusive interview.
“I got a tip off about Charlie from a guy, so I went over there and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was 11 and I think he was playing in the Under-13s, and I was like ‘wow’.
“His first touch was unbelievable, his vision, his awareness of space. He was way above his years, he was on another planet to anyone else on the pitch.
“I made a phone call to my head of my department at Arsenal at the time, Sean O’Connor. He asked what I thought and I said, ‘well, I’m not coming back again. I don’t need to see any more, you need to sign this kid straight away.’”
And Arsenal did exactly that, seeing off rival interest from the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham to win the race for Patino in 2015.
Since then the midfielder has been earmarked as a priority for Arsenal, a player who has long been identified by the academy coaching staff as having the talent to push towards the first-team.
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Patino, who has just signed a new long-term commercial deal with Adidas, was born in London and grew up living almost on the doorstep of Arsenal’s London Colney training ground.
He started playing football from an early age, soon joining St Albans, and it was there that he was spotted by Luton Town.
A move to the Hatters soon followed, before Arsenal came calling when he was 11, with Steve Morrow - former head of youth recruitment at the Gunners - securing the deal on the recommendation of Stapleton and the recruitment team.
“It was clear Charlie was a special talent,” Morrow told Goal .
“We were aware there was a lot of interest in him so we had to move quickly to get it done.”
Patino’s father, Jules, originates from Spain and the teenager’s game is heavily influenced by his Spanish roots.
Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta is one of his idols, and the Spanish Football Federation are keeping a close eye on his development at Arsenal, knowing that he qualifies to represent the 2010 World Cup winners as well as England.
Patino was once on Barcelona’s radar himself, and he has admitted that one day he could be interested in a move to La Liga.
“My dad supports Deportivo La Coruna because he grew up in Spain,” Patino told Arsenal.com. “Maybe one day I could play for them too!
“I’ve always had an appreciation for that Spanish style of play.
“Growing up I adored Santi Cazorla as a player. Cesc Fabregas and Mikel Arteta were some of my favourites too. But there’s something about Santi for me and the qualities that he had – he was something else.”
Patino has progressed swiftly through the ranks at Hale End, and after starring for the U18s, he made his U23s debut towards the end of last season before a hamstring injury ruled him out of the remainder of the campaign.
He is now fully fit, however, and is expected to play a significant role for the U23s this season, despite not turning 18 until October.
A left-footed midfielder who likes to operate as a No.8, Patino has had his pathway carefully mapped out by Arsenal, and the current plan is for him to stay with the club and progress straight into the first-team set-up, rather than going out on loan.
“Sean O’Connor discovered Jack Wilshere and he said to me that Charlie is the best player who has ever walked through the doors at Hale End,” says Stapleton. “The kid has got so much potential, but he’s not there yet.
“There is a pathway that Arsenal have got for him and he’s probably going down the same pathway as Phil Foden at Manchester City.
“Charlie has an amazing awareness of where he is on the pitch and where other players are on the pitch. His vision is so good, he can split a defence with a pass.
“And he has that desire to do well. When he’s on that pitch he can be an animal, he’s a winner.”
Foden’s development at Manchester City is one that has many similarities with the way Patino is now being handled at Arsenal.
The 17-year-old was regularly invited to train with the first team last season, and a specialist coach has been brought in to work with him to improve his pace and explosiveness.
Arsenal’s failure to secure European football this season may mean that Patino has to wait a little longer for his competitive senior debut, with the 2022-23 season being earmarked as his potential breakthrough campaign.
But given his rapid rise through the ranks, it would be no surprise to anyone at the club should the popular teenager force his way into Arteta’s thinking ahead of schedule.
And for Stapleton, the man who played such a key role in taking him to Arsenal, seeing the midfielder make his debut would be a proud moment.
“If Charlie keeps going the way he’s going, the world is his oyster,” says the former Gunners scout. “He’s such a great lad and he never forgets people who have helped him along the way.
“When players sign their first professional contract at Arsenal, they are given two pens that have their names on it and the date.
“After Charlie had signed, I got a phone call from him asking me to go over to his house and when I got there he presented me with one of his pens.
“Just little things like that make travelling up and down motorways and standing in the rain worth it. For a scout, it’s special.”