Yousuf Sajjad is head of emerging talent at Arsenal and was the main driver behind several key academy signings in recent months.
The likes of Mika Biereth, Omar Rekik, Salah Oulad M’Hand, Nikolaj Moller and Tim Akinola were all identified by Sajjad who joined the Gunners recruitment department from Chelsea in August 2019.
Sajjad is working on the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Asian inclusion mentoring scheme and recently spoke on Instagram about his journey so far as a British Pakistani working in football, and gave an insight into how his role works with the Gunners academy.
Here are some of the highlights:
How did you join Arsenal?
I got approached in 2019. I had conversations internally with the guys at Arsenal, it was good because I wasn’t going in as an apprentice. I was established in my role.
At Arsenal I’ve almost been given a free reign to do what I need to do, building on what I did at Chelsea really.
There was change almost instantly. I made sure that I would go to every office, I’m proud to be who I am and what I’ve achieved. I saw Per at Hale End and asked if I could get some time with him if he was free. At the time you almost walk away from the conversation thinking ‘you just approached Per Mertesacker’.
He was really positive in his response and he’s really open at any point if I want to talk about it. We scheduled something in his diary, I presented who I am to Per and I think it was just him knowing who I am. I’ve come on board, I have a skillset but I want to create relationships. The job is about creating relationships, you can’t do your job without doing that.
What is your day-to-day?
It varies. I’m predominantly working in academy recruitment, signing players within the academy to bring in our Under-18s and Under-23s, looking at the scholars that are coming up too
My day-to-day is planning, we work closely with the loan department and also assisting withe the first team as and when. I try and make sure I keep in contact with some of the boys, they know they can always call me if they have any problems or just want to have a chat.
What made you want to sign Mika Biereth?
All of the boys that we sign have their own unique selling points. We sign players across the board with different remits. Mika was one that we looked at for about a year before we signed him. His finishing is obviously unbelievable but it’s the personality that he showed that really captured our eyes.
He had no problem in getting in the face of centre halves, making it uncomfortable for then. He wants to win and will do whatever it takes. He went right up to the line without crossing it every time I watched him.
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What are the characteristics you look for in players?
The club values of respect, discipline and humility are an absolute given. In terms of player specific models, we have a four pillar model where we look at champion mentality, most efficient mover, effective team player and lifelong learner.
As an academy we really believe education plays a key part in you becoming a successful person as well as contributing to how you deal with your footballing career.
Champion mentality can be shown at different ages in different ways. It could be making sure all the bottles are picked up after training, or it could be when you get your team over the line.