England Under-21s’ European Championship campaign gets underway on Thursday, and Eddie Nketiah is the man who’s been entrusted with the captaincy.
The 21-year-old has been given the honour by Aidy Boothroyd despite having played very little football at club level with Arsenal of late.
In the first half of the Premier League season under Mikel Arteta, the forward was afforded plenty of playing time, but more recently he has struggled to make the matchday squads. Not since the end of January, when he got a single minute against Manchester United, has he been included in a Premier League squad.
Nketiah’s current deal at the Emirates is due to expire at the end of next season and with Arteta seemingly unconvinced of his ability, this Championship offers him the opportunity to provide his boss with something to think about.
If you were to sum up his second half of the season so far at club level, the word ‘frustrating’ would probably suffice – adding further importance to the Euros for Nketiah from an individual standpoint.
Back in October, Nketiah broke the all-time England goalscoring record at Under-21 level, surpassing both Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers when he netted against Turkey at Molineux. His pedigree at this level is undeniable and, on a stage where he is comfortable, he must make the most of his chance to prove his worth.
He’s scored five goals for Arsenal in 25 appearances this season, with the majority of those coming in the Europa League group stage, but with Gabriel Martinelli nearing a return to full fitness, there is no getting away from the fact he has become a peripheral figure.
Speaking ahead of the tournament kick off, Nketiah spoke of his frustrations. He said: “It’s been a difficult last month or so. I haven’t played as much as I would have liked.
“I have been working hard and being dedicated which adds to the frustration but I have a great opportunity in front of me.
“Aidy [Boothroyd] has been really good with me and has been checking in on me. I have a big tournament ahead of me. In life, there are always opportunities in front of you. The captaincy is a big responsibility. I’m grateful to have this opportunity, have fun and do my best to help the country achieve something special.”
If England can safely navigate their way through the group stage, Nketiah and his teammates will be able to shift their focus back to club football until the tournament resumes in May.
Frustration is something all footballers, at one point or another, will have to deal with. However, in Nketiah’s case, he needs to put that to one side and capitalise on the chance these international fixtures present.