IT WAS the highest of praise for any debutant.
Bukayo Saka, Arsenal’s 17-year-old starlet, had been given a surprise call-up as Unai Emery’s first-team took on Qarabag in the Europa League.
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka is expected to be the next superstar to come out of Gunners’ Hale End academy[/caption]
And Michael Owen, working as an analyst for BT Sport, was left purring.
“Some of the skill… I watched Cristiano Ronaldo doing this the other day for Juventus,” the former England man said.
“He’s just different class and by the end of the game his confidence was oozing.”
Forward Saka, who has caught the attention of Bundesliga clubs, was making a premature move into the spotlight.
And he shone, showing off the speed, agility and guile that Arsenal icon Freddie Ljungberg had been developing through the club’s youth system.
READY, FREDDIE, GO
Saka joined the Gunners‘ Hale End academy nine years before his debut.
And despite his success with Ljungberg, the London-born lad had not been expecting his call-up in December.
Sat among team-mates as Emery listed off his squad for the European clash, Saka was jolted by the sound of his own name.
“He called out the team and I couldn’t believe it,” the talented teen said.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about today, what I’m gonna do, how I’m going to do, and it turned out alright.”
As did Saka, who signed his first contract with Arsenal in September.
His rapid rise has seen many at the Emirates expecting to see the young star make a permanent break into the first-team in the near future.
“Bukayo is a great talent,” Ljungberg told the club’s official website.
“He’s just going to get better and better, keep his head down and keep working.”
Saka, of Nigerian descent, was already making a mark on the international scene.
LION IN WAIT
He has been a regular with England’s Under-19s, scoring on his debut against Moldova and bagging a double against the Czech Republic last week.
Saka has made appearances in the Premier League and FA Cup since his Europa League starring role.
And his already sharp shooting ability is being honed even more by working with Emery’s first-team.
Saka told Arsenal.com: “When we do finishing drills with Lacazette, Aubameyang and Iwobi, you can just see the finishing and the quality that they have.
“I just want to be like them, so every time I’m there I just try to learn from the best, especially in my position because I can take a lot from them.”
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Saka is emerging from a system with a reputation.
Expectations are lofty when you’re following in the footsteps of the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Ashley Cole and Hector Bellerin.
But when you’re being compared to Ronaldo after just one start, the future is inevitably bright.
Saka has starred for England U19s and bagged a double against Czech Republic[/caption]