Arsenal youngster Emile Smith Rowe has voiced delight at how his season has turned out under new manager Unai Emery after admitting he turned down advances from Barcelona.
The 18-year-old made his senior Arsenal debut in September and has since racked up six first-team appearances under Emery. There was speculation linking him with interest from Barca as early as 2017, but he told Sky Sports he's glad to have remained at his boyhood club.
"I used to watch that Barcelona team, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, when they were in their prime," the Croydon native said. "So when I found out that they were interested of course I was very happy, but I can't explain to you how much I feel that Arsenal is the right club for me."
Smith Rowe joined the club at the age of nine and has excelled through the age groups. He's a versatile midfielder with keen positional awareness, creative acumen and an eye for goal.
He demonstrated that touch with a smartly taken strike in pre-season when Arsenal drew 1-1 against Atletico Madrid in the International Champions Cup in July. He assisted a goal in a friendly against Paris Saint-Germain days later and signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal the same month.
The teenager is leading the next charge of homegrown youngsters coming through the club's academy, and even Chris Miller of The Extra Inch, a Tottenham-centric podcast, praised the potential of their rivals' gem:
Barcelona is largely regarded as one of the pillars of football when it comes to developing young players, with Lionel Messi having refined his talents in the La Masia academy following his move from Argentina as a youth.
But the bright lights of the Camp Nou weren't enough to tempt Smith Rowe, whose family moved to north London after he was signed in 2010.
Smith Rowe has dealt with his duties well out wide when played there, but he's proved himself equally adept in an attacking midfield role and when positioned more centrally.
It was off the left side that he scored his third competitive senior goal for the Gunners during their 3-0 Europa League win over Vorskla and earned Team of the Week honours, via Football Talent Scout:
Emery's mentorship has been of great value to Smith Rowe, whose Arsenal allegiance looks likely to keep him at the Emirates Stadium as long as the club will have him.