Arsenal and England star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has revealed his dreams of becoming a professional footballer were nearly dashed before he had celebrated his 16th birthday.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is emerging as one of the rising stars of English football after breaking into the Arsenal first team, but he recalls that his future was on the line as he struggled to convince Southampton youth-team chiefs that he had what it takes to make the step up to the senior ranks.
"People at school used to assume I was going to be a footballer and it wasn't until I got to 16 that I had a doubt for the first time in my life," he told the Daily Mirror. "Southampton said I wasn't big enough to make it, simple as that.
"Everyone at the club shot up at the age of 14, but I didn't do that until I was 16. So during those two years, when I was coming up to 16, Southampton said: 'We don't think you can cope'. They were going to release me and said I had two months to get a scholarship. Then they told me there was a lad who was going to get it ahead of me and that was the first time I realised I might have to say to my friends: 'I am coming to college with you lot'.
"In the end, I got my scholarship and, six months later, I was in the Southampton first team. When it levels out and you get to 17, 18, ability takes over again to a certain extent and that is when I pushed on."
Oxlade-Chamberlain has now proved his worth as a Premier League performer after winning over his doubters and he seems to have found the ideal mentor to drain the very best out of him in Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.
"Stepping into the Premier League was tough and the boss helped me at that time," he added. "He used to say I had the natural ability and just needed to tune the rest of the game. A year later and I have improved, but he's still saying that to me that I should always try to improve.
"The boss has that aura about him. It's not that you're not scared of him or you can't speak to him, but you respect him so much and don't want to mess up in front of him. He always keeps your standards high."