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World Cup 2022 Youngsters to Watch: William Saliba

Can the Arsenal man take centre-stage in Qatar?

Name: William Saliba

Age: 21 (at time of writing)

Position: Centre Back

Place of Birth: Bondy, France

National team career: 7 caps (0 goals)

Current club: Arsenal

Born in Bondy, a French Banlieue that has garnered a reputation for churning out some of France’s finest talent, Saliba was coached by Kylian Mbappe’s father, with Kylian two years his senior and the pair even attending the same primary school.

Beyond that, however, their paths diverged. While Kylian Mbappe rose to prominence with AS Monaco, Saliba made the slightly shorter move south to Saint Etienne, where he joined their U17 side.

Two years later, and still only 17 years old, he made his senior debut for the Ligue 1 side, playing 90 minutes in the heart of his side’s backline as they edged out Toulouse 3-2.

Despite having just 16 Ligue 1 appearances to his name, his talent was evident, and Arsenal moved quickly to secure his services, stumping up £27m for the teenager on the proviso that he spend the following season back on loan with Les Stéphanois.

When he returned, however, it was to different management. Unai Emery had left Arsenal, while head of football Raul Sanhelli left before the beginning of the following campaign.

A late loan move away for the Frenchman fell through, and he was forced to play U23 football until the following January, when a move back to France with Nice was agreed.

It proved to be a mixed loan spell, and the decision was once more taken to send the prodigious talent out on loan in Ligue 1, this time with Olympique Marseille. It was here that the most concrete steps to turn the talent into stardom were made, with the youngster starring in Jorge Sampaoli’s gung-ho system, and picking up the Ligue 1 Young player of the Year award come the end of the season.

It also earned him his first senior appearance with Les Blues, the defender making his debut in March 2022.

Finally staying put in north London, Saliba’s realisation of his enormous talent has continued, with the 6ft4 centre-back having displaced Ben White at the heart of Arsenal’s defence, and showing a calmness both on and off the ball only exuded by those completely confident in their abilities.

Still just 21 years old, he is by no means the finished product yet, and he will have to fight off competition from a whole cadre of top defenders, with Ibrahima Konate, Jules Kounde and Dayot Upamecano all fighting for a place next to Raphael Varane in Didier Deschamp’s starting XI.

However, should he get the chance, the boy from Bondy is unlikely to let his nation down.

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Ben Browning

Football writer and analyst. Long-time writer of all things Arsenal and avid watcher of European football. Happy to discuss all things football over on Twitter.

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