News Live Scores
Transfers

Hoffenheim wonderkid Nelson showing he is ready to star at Arsenal

4:00 AM EDT 4/19/19
Reiss Nelson Hoffenheim 15122018
The English teenage prodigy is being upstaged by Jadon Sancho in Germany but is nonetheless learning what it takes to succeed at the top level

After 40 years, it looks like a Bundesliga record is about to be broken.

The 17 goals Kevin Keegan hit during the 1978-79 season represents the best-ever return by English players over the course of a single campaign in the German top flight.

However, on Saturday, England international Jadon Sancho struck for the 10th time this season for Borussia Dortmund before compatriot Reiss Nelson racked up his seventh goal for Hoffenheim the following day.

It now seems like only a matter of time before the record falls and the teenage duo would certainly deserve their little slice of history.

Due to injuries and disciplinary reasons, Nelson has not been a regular starter at Hoffenheim since joining on loan from Arsenal last summer, but he has impressed when he has played.

Averaging a goal every 84 minutes of game time, the 19-year-old has been the perfect impact substitute for Julian Nagelsmann's top-four chasing side.

His goal in the 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin on Sunday was another such cameo, swooping in unmarked at the back post to double Hoffenheim's lead just seven minutes after coming off the bench.

Unlike many other Premier League clubs who send their young players on loan to the lower tiers in England, Arsenal academy manager Per Mertesacker sees huge advantages in having his emerging talent playing at a high level abroad.

The idea is that travelling overseas allows the players to not only improve their abilities on the pitch, but also develop off it.

Of course, a key part of the process is matching players with the right clubs, with Nelson sent to Hoffenheim because it meant a chance to work with young manager Nagelsmann, who has previously helped develop the likes of Serge Gnabry and Niklas Sule.

"We are starting step-by-step to pick and choose the right clubs with the right players and we are building some relationships with clubs abroad," Mertesacker told Goal.

"It’s quite interesting for Reiss, the journey he’s facing in Germany. He’s describing it as a tough time. Every day in training there’s something he takes on. With a young manager who really believes in him and gives him chances, sometimes he comes off the bench and makes the difference.

"So, for him, the next step is really to play regularly, playing from the start. That’s his next challenge but at the moment he’s making an impact coming off the bench, he’s getting minutes, he’s learning a new culture, a new language. I think it’s very beneficial to him."

Nelson is enjoying the new take on life in the Rhine-Neckar region of Germany, living in the university town of Heidelberg, where a quarter of the population are students.

The change of scenery has also been a learning experience for the teenager, who was briefly left out of the team by Nagelsmann for turning up late for training.

"I’m learning a different culture. I’m taking in the environment," Nelson told Sky. "Per’s just been very direct to me, telling me it’s not always about football sometimes it’s about off the pitch.

"You can make mistakes but it’s your job and you shouldn’t be late. I held my hand up and I said sorry to him and we both moved on as bigger men.

"He put me in the squad the next week because I’d been doing well.”

Like compatriot Sancho, Nelson has caused plenty of problems for opposition defenders for both club and country this season.

He has stepped up to become one of the stars of the England Under-21 side as Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi graduated into Gareth Southgate's seniors, while Bundesliga backs have found him a handful when deployed on the wing or even through the middle.

He has also picked up Champions League experience, playing in five of Hoffenheim's group games, including the full second half against Manchester City at the Etihad.

His 25 games in all competitions is a big step up from last season, where only the Europa League really afforded him the opportunity to impress for Arsenal.

However, his performance on the right of midfield for the Gunners against BATE Borisov in September 2017 caught the eye of a Gunners legend.

"He breezes past players," former centre-half Martin Keown told BT Sport. "These are the sort of touches you often see or associate with a Neymar or other top players."

Nelson still has that raw talent he perfected growing up in London, where he played games in his housing estate against older, stronger kids.

This season, he has continued to flourish against older and stronger opponents, with his technical ability tormenting seasoned professionals. He hopes that his performances will have done enough to impress Unai Emery and earn him a place in the Arsenal squad next season.

"If I wasn’t aiming to break into the Arsenal first team, that wouldn’t be the correct mindset," he told the Times. "I needed to go there with that mindset of breaking into that team.

"For me, it’s just about playing — getting the game time you need to prove to everyone you can play at that high level.

"I had to learn very quickly and adapt to the German language. On my debut the ball went over the top and I just heard everyone shouting, ‘Weiter, weiter, weiter’. “I didn’t know what they were talking about!

"I realised it meant, ‘Run, run, press, press’. That’s the intensity you want to play at. It can only make me better.”

Nelson has been well schooled under Nagelsmann and his football education in Germany will see him return to Arsenal a much better player but also a better professional – something which will undoubtedly help him when it comes to impressing new professor Emery.