Charlie Patino looks to have already outgrown under-23 football despite being just 18
Credit: ARSENAL FC VIA GETTY IMAGES
Hype rarely helps in football, but sometimes it is simply impossible to suppress. Supporters are not blind, and in the modern world there is rarely a shortage of video clips or compilations of a young talent who is climbing the ranks at a big club.
These days the fans know what is coming, largely because they can see it for themselves, either by watching full academy games or, as is far more likely, stumbling on a condensed clip on social media. Such is the case for the wonderfully talented Charlie Patino, an Arsenal youngster who is generating enormous excitement both within the club’s walls and, inevitably, the fanbase.
At the time of writing, a clip of Patino’s goal against Manchester United under-23s in September has been viewed 1.4 million times on Twitter and retweeted around 5,000 times. It is easy to see why: Patino wins the ball with a sliding tackle, slaloms past two defenders, deceives another and then dinks the ball over the United goalkeeper.
Simply stunning from @CharliePatino10 🤩 pic.twitter.com/fqi6pXMqCV
— Arsenal Academy (@ArsenalAcademy) September 12, 2021
It helped the clip’s shareability that one of the defenders in question was Phil Jones, a 27-cap former England international with 200 Premier League appearances to his name, and that the goalkeeper was Dean Henderson, another England international.
To those who were not already aware of Patino, this goal and his other performances this season have been enough to make them sit up and take notice. To those who had seen him before, or had heard the whispers coming out of the club’s Hale End academy, it was simply further evidence that he can be the latest jewel to jump from the youth ranks to the first team.
At the age of 18, Patino already looks to be outgrowing under-23 football. Arsenal clearly feel the same: in recent months he has spent as much time training with the senior squad as he has with the youth team. In a behind-closed-doors friendly against Brentford earlier this season, Patino played for an hour in a side packed with first-team regulars, including Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.
Charlie Patino 👀 💭 #afcpic.twitter.com/6ttsgdJzuJ
— Phantomn AFC (@PhantomnAFC) September 22, 2021
On Tuesday night, following another session with Mikel Arteta’s squad this week, he was named on the bench for the first time as Arsenal took on Sunderland in the Carabao Cup.
The inclusion in a matchday squad marks the next big step in Patino’s Arsenal journey, which began in 2015 when he was signed from Luton Town (the club he supports) for a compensation fee of around £10,000. He was 11 years old.
The size of the investment for a player so young was indicative of his obvious quality: the scout who spotted Patino told Goal that the midfielder is the best youth player he has ever seen.
Patino’s arrival at Arsenal represented something of a coup, as Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur were also competing for his signature. It helped Arsenal’s cause that he grew up in London Colney, just down the road from the club’s training ground.
Since joining Arsenal, Patino has consistently played above his age group. He was only 14 when he captained England’s under-16 side, and he made his first appearance for Arsenal’s under-18s in the same year.
To be clear, these achievements are not a reflection of his physique. Some youngsters play up a year, for example, because their bodies develop early. Patino’s game is instead built on brainpower and technical skill. He is capable of playing as a deep-lying midfielder, as an attacking playmaker or as a “number 8” on either side of a midfield three.
Patino’s vision and control are the attributes that make him stand out, although he is hardly lacking physical presence: he stands at nearly 6ft tall, with more growing — upwards and outwards — to do.
There is a clear Spanish influence on Patino’s game, which is a reflection of his upbringing. His father grew up in Spain and Patino has said he has “always had an appreciation for that Spanish style of play.”
Charlie Patino idolised Mikel Arteta growing up
Credit: ARSENAL FC VIA GETTY IMAGES
Earlier this year he named Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas and Arteta as his favourite players as a youngster, and Telegraph Sport understands that the Spanish Football Federation are well aware of Patino’s progress.
A commercial deal with Adidas was another indication of Patino’s rising profile within the game, and the expectation is that another contract will be put on the table by Arsenal when he turns 18 next month.
As for his progression into the first-team, the long-term plan was for his breakthrough to come next season. He is ahead of schedule once again, and he is helped by the absence of real depth in central midfield in Arteta’s squad.
There is uncertainty over the long-term futures of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mohamed Elneny, and the situation means that, if Arsenal could pick one position in which to have a thrillingly talented youngster emerging from the academy, it would surely be central midfield.
All this naturally puts pressure on Patino, as does the coverage on social media (and indeed in these pages). Those who know him, though, are not concerned. Patino’s steady family life provides a strong base and, by all accounts, he is a grounded and mature individual. There are similarities here with Bukayo Saka, another graduate of the Arsenal academy.
No one can say with any certainty whether a young player will fulfil their promise, and it would be foolish in the extreme to boldly predict that Patino will have a major impact on the first-team this season. Form can fluctuate, and injuries can get in the way. What is clear, though, is that Patino has considerable potential. It is there for all to see.