I called Arsenal’s bluff – then every team in the country wanted to sign me

Jamie O'Hara in action for Spurs
Jamie O'Hara made the move across north London after being made to wait for a first-team opportunity at Arsenal -Credit:(Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Jamie O'Hara recounted how he forced a move away from Arsenal - to eventually land at their bitter rivals in Tottenham Hotspur.

The former Premier League midfielder was once a hot prospect with the Gunners, where his talents were recognised early on. At just 17 years old, O'Hara was donning the England jersey at youth levels and was eager to step up to senior football.

Arsenal, under the guidance of Academy director Liam Brady, had a different plan for O'Hara, envisioning a gradual progression into the first team around his early twenties. This approach didn't align with O'Hara's ambitions or those of his father, prompting them to look for opportunities elsewhere, reports the Mirror.

"My dad and me had a falling out with Liam Brady, who was a legend there," O'Hara revealed on the Ben Heath Podcast. "I was 17 and playing in the [England] age groups with Tom Huddlestone, Gabby Agbonlahor, Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon. I was playing with players who were already playing first-team football. I thought I was ready."

"I wasn't ready, but I thought I was. I didn't want to get held back. Liam Brady was like, 'we love you, we're going to development you, you're going to have a great career here, but we don't see you getting in the team until you're 21'.

"I was like, 'I'm 17, I'm not waiting another four years'. I was was, 'like nah'. Liam Brady was a brilliant man but quite a stubborn character. So we called their bluff a little bit and said, 'we'll leave then'."

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That decision set off a frenzy among clubs vying for his signature, with Premier League giants and international teams alike in the mix. O'Hara revealed: "All of a sudden, I had every team in the country wanting to sign me."

He recounted the overwhelming interest: "I had about 15 letters from 15 different clubs, Man United, Man City, Tottenham, Chelsea, Wimbledon. Real Madrid wanted me to go out there and have a trial with them, but I didn't want to leave home. I lost my mum to cancer when I was 17 and I didn't want to stay in digs."

O'Hara saw Tottenham as the ideal fit, being a fan himself: "Tottenham was the perfect opportunity. I'm a Tottenham fan, I love it there. They brought me in and I trained with the first team. Straight away, I pursued going to Tottenham and made that happen. I heard they paid around £1million for me with add-ons."

Despite his move, O'Hara's rise to the first team at Spurs wasn't immediate, leading to an ironic twist: "The funny thing is, I left Arsenal because I didn't want to wait until I was 21 to make my debut. I went to Tottenham and made my debut when I was 21!"

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