Eddie Nketiah hailed the “magnificent” Thierry Henry for helping him become an Arsenal striker worthy of earning a senior England call-up.
The 24-year-old, who is England’s most prolific Under-21 goalscorer, was included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the first time for the upcoming games against Ukraine and Scotland.
Nketiah made his Arsenal debut six years ago and last turned out for England Under-21s in 2021.
— England (@England) September 4, 2023
He has scored 34 goals in 136 games for the Gunners, starting with a memorable home debut off the bench against Norwich – scoring a brace to secure victory in an EFL Cup tie.
Despite bursting onto the scene, Nketiah’s options were limited to the lesser cup competitions and a disappointing loan spell at Leeds in the Sky Bet Championship was seen as another setback.
But, during his younger years at Arsenal – whom he joined having been released by Chelsea at the age of 14 – he was able to pick the brains of the club’s all-time record goalscorer and former captain.
“Thierry has been magnificent for me,” he revealed.
“I was able to be coached by him as a first-year scholar at 16, it was amazing, one of my best and most enjoyable seasons, being able to bounce ideas off him and he gave me a lot of confidence and still to this day when I see him he is still supportive and still really helpful.”
Asked for the best piece of advice he received from the France World Cup winner, whose old number 14 shirt he now wears, Nketiah replied: “Probably just to believe in yourself.
“He came in and saw the quality I had when I was 16 or 17 and said that I just needed to believe in myself, whatever anyone else said. That is what is going to drive you, to motivate you. That’s probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
“I think he knows what he’s talking about, so it’s not a bad feeling!”
As he fought for a starting place under Unai Emery – and now Mikel Arteta – Nketiah saw Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe emerge as the next precocious academy talent off the Hale End production line – the former now a firm favourite of Southgate.
“I’m still young,” Nketiah said when asked if he was concerned he may have missed out on his own international opportunity.
“Everyone’s journey is different. In this day and age everyone needs to focus on their own story and their own journey, not look at anyone else’s. Our career paths have been totally different. We’ve had different opportunities at different times.
“I think I am a much better player now than I was two or three years ago. It is really nice and I am coming in at a good time and a good moment.
“I feel confident and I feel ready to continue to improve – that is the thing, I’m still young and humble enough to know I am not the finished article.
Nketiah could have opted to switch allegiances after Ghana – the birthplace of his parents – put feelers out to attract him to play for the Black Stars.
But, once the call came, he knew he had made the right decision to stick with his guns.
“I think obviously both sides were always an option,” he added.
“I think naturally coming through the academy at England obviously you have the aspiration to play here and like I said, once the call-up was there and the offer was on the table it was really hard to turn down and something which I felt was a natural progression for myself at this stage.
“I felt now was a good time to make that step so obviously I’m really happy to be here and proud to be here like I said, hopefully I can go on and help the team this week and get some caps.”