Reiss Nelson interview: ‘I’d get cuts and bruises playing on concrete... so I bought my school a new pitch’

 (Arsenal via Getty)
(Arsenal via Getty)

As soon as he arrived back at Arsenal this summer, Reiss Nelson felt like he was home.

Nelson had just spent last season on loan at Dutch club Feyenoord and, upon returning to Arsenal’s training base at London Colney, he recalls having a “warm, joyful feeling” in his heart.

The winger had similar emotions on Friday, as he visited his old primary school, Michael Faraday, to unveil a new astroturf pitch that he has personally funded.

It was at that school that Nelson took his first steps in football, honing his skills in the playground, but the new 4G pitch he has paid for is in stark contrast to the one he played on there growing up.

“I remember playing on the concrete floor and coming home with bruises and cuts on my legs from playing all the time,” Nelson tells Standard Sport.

“In school there were no rules, you just had 100 kids running after one football. It was in the playground so you had all these obstacles in your way - benches, teachers walking around with their tea, everything.

“Sometimes you miss those days and you just want to go back, remember when you had school at 9am but you’d get in at 8.30am just to chase the football around with all your friends.”

It is a sign of how highly-rated Nelson was as a young footballer that he first thought of funding a new pitch for his school when he was still only 10.

By that age, Nelson had been in Arsenal’s academy for three years and big things were expected of him.

Everyone was convinced the young boy from south London would turn professional and that includes Mikel Arteta, who first worked with Nelson when he was 13 as the Spaniard worked towards his coaching badges during the final days of his playing career.

“He kept putting on these sessions and I would just get the ball and dribble past everyone,” recalls Nelson.

“He would just laugh and put his arm round me, making me feel comfortable. It’s the same thing now.

“That’s one of the things we all love about Mikel, his man-management skills. In my view, he is just a genius in how he takes the sessions, how he takes the games, how he communicates with people and delivers on a match day.”

Despite shining as a youngster, it has not been an easy ride for Nelson. The 22-year-old has struggled for minutes at Arsenal and last season he went on loan to Feyenoord in search of more gametime.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It was the second occasion he has done so, having joined German side Hoffenheim on loan back in 2018, and he hopes he will be better for the experience.

“I’ve matured as the first time I went abroad I was only 18,” says Nelson. “I didn’t have my family there [in Germany] so much, so I struggled a bit, but this time I had my family there quite a lot.

“London is a very fast life, it’s just alive all the time and it’s just the small things like being able to see your friends all the time that you miss. That was one of the main things I missed when I was abroad.”

The friends Nelson missed include the likes of Kofi and Tobi, who went to school with him at Michael Faraday and accompanied him on Friday to unveil the new pitch.

Nelson now lives in north London, but he still has a flat in the south where he grew up. Often the winger heads down there to go to the old barbers and shops he used to visit, or to speak to the youth workers he spent time with growing up.

Nelson missed all that while he was away. He missed Arsenal too, although he admits the club has changed since he left it last year.

“The atmosphere around the training ground is just so alive,” he says. “Everyone just wants the best for each other.

Having that in a team where you can all be open to speak, good or bad, is just amazing.

“Everyone is really caring. That’s another thing, a lot of changing rooms they just want results but they don’t care about individuals and how people are. I feel like at this club everyone genuinely cares for each other and wants the best for each other.”

Nelson thinks that the close age range of the squad has helped create unity, but he has also praised Arteta for his role too.

“He does a lot of things off the pitch in terms of team bonding,” says Nelson. “It’s so important to have a manager that understands there is life off the pitch.

“There are times where we will literally be in a room, we’ll all be sitting in a circle and everyone is speaking with Mikel in the middle, just giving wisdom and encouraging people to feel good about themselves. Having that in a team where you can all be open to speak among each other, good or bad, is just amazing.

“I feel like everyone is rowing the boat the same way and there is no one trying to do an interview if they get upset or if they are not in the team. If you are on the bench, we are literally cheering and so happy for the guy in our position.”

Nelson is currently one of those vying to get in the starting XI more, but he is determined to keep fighting.

 (Arsenal via Getty)
(Arsenal via Getty)

The winger is into the final year of his contract at Arsenal and he would love nothing more than to shine enough to secure a new deal.

“I feel like Arsenal is the club for me at this moment in time,” Nelson says. “I have been here for so long and I’m very comfortable here.

“Of course, I want to play games and I want to play week in, week out, but I feel like at this moment in time I am at a place where I am only going to get better. I feel someone like Mikel is a coach that I need right now in my career, in terms of taking me to the next step.

“My head is not focusing on whether I need to get a team in January or talking to other teams, or doing this or that. It’s literally, how can I perform at the highest of heights when I get the opportunity?

“I am an Arsenal fan and, of course, I want to sign a new contract at the club. I am just going to be ready for anything I get now and give my all for the team.”