Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did not look as though he would be given a schoolboy contract by Southampton because he was told that he was too small for the game.
A year later, when he was 15, he was looking around sixth-form colleges to consider what career he might pursue if he could not become a professional footballer.
However, just by watching Spain at the Euros in 2008, Alex realized that he doesn’t need to look any further than Xavi and Iniesta as players who have excelled at the highest level despite lacking size.
Now 18 years old and with a 5’11″ frame stocky enough to earn him the nickname The Ox, Chamberlain has been an integral part of Arsenal’s set up this season and recently made his England debut.
Since joining the Gunners from Southampton last summer, Alex has become the youngest Englishman to score in the Champions League, taking over from teammate Theo Walcott. He has also contributed four goals and three assists in just 15 starts for the Gunners.
“If you’re clever enough on the ball and your touch is good enough, players like that won’t allow themselves to get into 50-50 physical battles,” the youngster was quoted as he reflected on midfield battles.
“If, say, an Iniesta got into 50-50 battles with big, tall central midfielders, I think eight out of 10 times he would lose. But he’s cleverer than that. He uses his first touch to get in front of the player, so the player will either have to foul him or leave him alone to get by him.”
He added: “You have to adapt the game to the way you are and I think that comes naturally. Training every day, whatever your physicality is, you have to adapt to play around that.
“It’s a footballing lesson for anyone, just to watch the way Barcelona play. I do watch Lionel Messi in particular and Iniesta and even Cesc Fabregas. There’s always a lot you can learn from others.”
Fellow Arsenal teammate Aaron Ramsey certainly believes Oxlade-Chamberlain can thrive at Euro 2012 in England colors, explaining: “Alex has had a good season. He’s young, he’s exciting, and he definitely has a big future. Everyone was delighted for him when he got the call-up.
“He’s definitely mature enough to handle the international stage. It was always going to happen.”
The young Englsihman has always had strong support, with his father Mark who played forEngland in the Eighties. Coincidently Mark also coached Theo Walcott during his time at Southhampton, who is of similar size and physique to Alex.
Mark told his boy not to worry about his lack of height early on, but instead to concentrate on perfecting his skill. Indeed, Oxlade-Chamberlain has developed into a fine technically gifted player.
The starlet insists: “If you are a smaller player, you have to get by using your brain a lot more and learning different things. And if you can get by doing that, it’s only going to be a bonus (when you grow).
“Football has always been a part of my life, with my dad playing. When you see your dad playing, you want to try it and I enjoyed it. My dad never forced me to play.
“I really enjoyed playing and obviously he was going to help me. He did spend a lot of time with me, taking me down to the field and showing me different things and working on my game technically. He always made it enjoyable.
“That’s the main thing when you’re younger — to make it enjoyable and not too serious. You have to forgive a lot of mistakes.”
Mark still plays an influential role in the development of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s game as the pair go through games on DVD together.
AOC continued: “It’s not so much that dad sits me down in the classroom, it’s more casual, you know. We enjoy watching football, so I like to watch my performances back every now and again just to have a look at what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong, what I need to improve on.
“He tells me what he doesn’t like me doing or what he doesn’t agree with. He asks me what the boss is asking me to do.
“We just talk and I just listen and learn. And I tell him stuff and we don’t always agree but its all good learning and I think it’s good for anyone to do every now and again,” he concluded.
Follow Charlie on Twitter: @C_Arsenal