It takes a brave young man to seek a move away from one of Europe’s biggest clubs before you’re even out of your teens. Especially when that club is Arsenal, a side renowned turning potential into world class quality.
Yet, Chris Willock was even willing to turn down a contract extension in order to force an exit from The Emirates in the summer with his deal expiring at the start of the summer. And Goal reported that the 19-year-old eventually signed a five-year deal with Portuguese champions Benfica.
This is despite Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger describing the England youth star as a ‘very gifted player with natural talent’ and confirming that he had planned to give Willock his chance in the first-team in 2017/18.
So far, however, Willock’s decision is yet to be vindicated. The Waltham Forest-born forward has featured four times in Benfica colours – though representing the B team rather than the senior side.
Lisbon over Glasgow
While Willock obviously needs time to adapt to a new culture, a new language and a new team, you wonder whether he might have found first-team football easier to come by had he chosen a short trip to Glasgow over a cross-continent sojourn to Lisbon.
According to the Daily Record in March, Celtic had identified Willock as a potential star of the future and manager Brendan Rodgers, who has an excellent track record with regards to bringing through young talent, had hoped to lure him to Parkhead with the promise of first-team football.
Whether Willock, renowned for his pace and rapid dribbling, would have forced his way into Celtic’s starting XI is another matter. But the progress of Patrick Roberts, the Manchester City loanee just a few months his senior, suggests that Willock would have been given an opportunity and would surely have enhanced his game under Rodgers.
Instead, Willock will be hoping he does not follow in the footsteps of Ryan Gould, the last hotly-tipped British talent to swap the UK for the Portuguese capital.