Per Mertesacker already planning for life in charge of Arsenal academy
Per Mertesacker is set to begin his work as the new Arsenal academy director in September, but he is already working hard to learn what is required to be successful in the job.
The Arsenal captain has entered the final few months of his career as a player and, having battled through a long injury last season, he has returned to Arsene Wenger's squad this season.
While he has yet to feature in a Premier League match this term, the central defender has played in Arsenal's two Europa League matches so far, and is also already preparing for his future role as the Arsenal academy director.
"I am prying on my new role and the people, on the huge machine of this academy," Mertesacker told Der Spiegel. "Some 70 employees, 150 to 200 youth players. I want to get to know them as soon as possible. I don't want to start my job next year by saying that I will need a year to settle in. That would not be good enough.
"But I have also told my coach Arsene Wenger that in the first place I am still a player. If I realise that learning the ropes occupies too much of my time, I will reduce it."
The 2014 World Cup winner also offered a detailed inside into his vision for the Arsenal academy and was critical of the current generation of youngsters coming through the ranks of the various European academies.
"These days, there are only role models like [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi with all their tricks. No young player would say that he'd take an old-school defender like myself as role model. You need to be cool, stylish and wear fancy boots," Mertesacker said.
When taking over the Arsenal academy, Mertesacker, who finished school while working on his dream to become a professional player in the early noughties, plans to inject a new sense for reality into the young players. He wants them to not only rest their hopes on football.
"Young players these days soon only plan with football," he said. "We need to be more realistic again. Many only think about a career in football, and have no perspective off the pitch. Once they turn 15 it's only about who has an agent, who has a sponsorship deal, who will play for the national team.
"I am not a product of a youth academy, and I'd dare to say I would not have made it in such a system. I was out for one year with growing problems. If you are out for a year today, you will never get back into the system. No chance. I had my first agent when I was 20, my first sponsorship deal after my first Germany match. I was never part of the football hype. But these days you just can't prevent it."
Mertesacker questioned the mentality of the young players, as well as the inflated transfer fees and wages paid for players such as Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele.
"There's more money in the market every year," he said. "States are also part of the financing now. It makes things complicated, also for us players. Paul Pogba's transfer to Manchester United was worth €105 million last summer, that was way too expensive. But it would have been a steal this year. That's just too fast."
Once in his new role, Mertesacker hopes he can pass on his values to the next generation, and he is not afraid to let go of those who don't follow his ideas.
"If it's not working out, you must make decisions," he said. "Maybe five, six players then have to go. It won't be easy. That's my vision and I can work out with the right staffing. And with players who also want to develop as a personality."
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.