VERSUS: First and foremost, congratulations on making your 100th Premier League appearance recently. To reach that milestone before the age of 21 must be a surreal feeling! How does it feel to now be a part of Arsenal’s Centurion Club?
Bukayo Saka: It feels crazy you know! It’s a dream I’ve had since young, so to be able to turn that into a reality is an unbelievable feeling. To play 100 League games for a club like Arsenal especially, means so much to me. I’m just so proud to have been able to achieve something like that at such a young age. It makes me so excited for what’s next.
You made your debut four seasons or so ago now. Do you feel as if you’ve changed much as a footballer and as a person since playing that first game?
I think, as a footballer I’ve definitely changed. I’ve grown a lot in terms of playing experience, maturity on the pitch, and tactical understanding. As a person, there’s no denying I’ve developed as well. I’ve gotten older and wiser, and life for me now isn’t the same as what it was back then. I’ve had to learn how to adapt to the pressure and the attention from fans and media, especially.
What would you say the main difference is?
The main change, or changes I’d say are probably…my life outside of football. I can’t do certain things I used to do before. There’s a lot more sacrifices I’ve had to make in that sense, but it’s all worth it because, where I am now, this is what I’ve dreamed of my whole life. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
Speaking of dreams, when you were a youngster in the playground pretending to score for Arsenal, does the reality of your life now match-up to that?
When you’re young, you never really know exactly how it’s going to happen. You just dream of one day putting on the Arsenal shirt and playing the game you’ve always loved! And for me to have done that 100 times already – in the Premier League as well – I never in my life imagined my career panning out like this, especially before turning 21-years-old. I’d say it’s probably better than anything I ever thought was possible.
“I’ve spent more than half my life as an Arsenal player! I’ve had so many great memories with this club, and I’m about to make so many more.”
Since playing for Arsenal, you’ve worn the No.87, No.77 and now the infamous No.7 shirt. What do each of those numbers represent to you, personally?
So, No.87 was my first-ever number as a professional player. I’d just come up to London Colney as a scholar and I was doing everything in my power to make the First Team, which is obviously a process. But I worked up the ranks through the U18s and U23s, where every single day I made sure I believed in myself, and worked tirelessly to achieve that end goal of playing with the pros. That shirt number will always be special to me because I ended up making my debut wearing it, after all that hard work and dedication. The following season I changed to No.77, and that’s when I kicked on, played more games and racked up some important minutes. Arsenal then trusted me enough to wear the iconic No.7 shirt.
From that moment, I really felt that the club believed in me and that was a really big boost to my confidence. Every time I now step out onto the pitch I can feel the support from the fans and the club. They’re both 100% behind me, and that helps me to play ‘my football’ freely. How important is the club’s trust in helping to build your sense of self-belief?
First it needs to come from yourself, after that it comes from the club, your manager, teammates and the fans. If you have all of that support, you can’t help but believe in your abilities. Like I said, I feel like I can be free and play the football I love playing because I know that everyone is behind me. That is such an amazing feeling, and it’s one I’ll never take for granted. I’m forever grateful for the love and support I receive from the Arsenal family.
Everyone has had the pleasure of seeing you grow from a boy to a man, but something people have continued to refer to you as is, ‘God’s son’. How important is religion to you in terms of this journey you’re on as a professional footballer?
Religion is so important to me, and I can’t stress that enough. I always say that God is great, and religion allows me to be content and happy at all times, which is really vital because as we all know, football can be a roller coaster.
There are so many moments when you’re ‘up’ because you’re winning, and massive moments when you’re ‘down’ because you’re losing. Religion just allows me to keep faith that God’s plan is perfect, and therefore, there is nothing for me to worry about. I can be happy knowing that God knows what’s best for me, and that’s how I approach my life and career.
“I feel like I can be free and play the football I love playing because I know that everyone is behind me. That is such an amazing feeling, and it’s one I’ll never take for granted.”
You spoke about your move from Hale End to Colney briefly. Of course you played in countless games while in the Academy before this milestone. What was the biggest lesson you learnt coming into the professional game?
To always enjoy it! When you make that step up it can be a lot in terms of pressure – from the fans to the league table for example. You’ve also got a lot of competition in the team itself, as well as the external pressures you might feel from so many different people and places. It can sometimes make you forget the reason why you started playing football. Which is why it’s so important to always enjoy it because it is literally the best job in the world. I can’t, and should never, complain about getting the opportunity to do what I love for a living.
“When I scored my first NLD goal, wow. Being able to see my family and have them experience that with me, that was a moment I will never forget.”
What is so special about Arsenal? Why does this club mean so much to you as both a player and a person?
Arsenal means everything to me. I’ve spent more than half my life as an Arsenal player! The club is a part of me, and it always will be. I’ve grown up here, I’m continuing to mature here. I’ve had so many great memories with this club, and I’m about to make so many more.
Thinking back, do you think there’s anything you would have done on this journey differently?
Absolutely not. Everything I’ve done up until this point I’ve learned from, and it’s made me who I am. I honestly wouldn’t change anything.
What does the future hold for Bukayo Saka, what’s on the ‘New Horizon’?
Winning. I want to win as much as possible with this club. I want us to win trophies and continue to make history because that’s what Arsenal deserves.
Bukayo Saka wears A-COLD-WALL* SS23, Prada AW22, Heron Preston AW22, Labrum AW22, Bottega Veneta, Off-White SS22, Gentle Monster and Feather Pendants.
Photography, Creative Direction, and Production: Henry Jay Kamara (@jaykammy)
Photography assistant: Christian Cassiel (@christiancassiel)
Stylist: TJ Sawyerr (@tj.saw1)
Styling Assistant: James Loach (@jamesloachco)
Styling Assistant: Jesse Agwae (@jesseagss)
Talent Lead: Johnny Kay (@ojhnyn)