Henry Onyekuru, the wide-attacking 20-year-old Celtic targeted in January, looks set to join Arsenal from Belgian club KAS Eupen. The player had a tremendous season for his newly promoted club, alerting Celtic, and prompting a walkout by the player, when his hope of a transfer in the winter window was rejected.
The moral of this story is that it has become increasingly difficult to sign even 20-year-olds who had no pedigree a year ago, when Arsenal can bid £6.8m for a player who is likely to sit for most of the season in the stands.
For Celtic, the Onyekuru experience should be informative. The player came to Belgium from the Aspire Academy in Qatar. He joined the Academy’s Senegal training facility as a 13-year-old, before moving to the Aspire Football Dreams (AFD) project at the Qatari capital, Doha.
The AFD is a humanitarian project, allowing promising kids the best opportunity to develop as footballers, while receiving an educational scholarship. As you would expect from a Qatari project, it is not underfunded.
KAS Eupen were bought by the Aspire Zone Foundation five years ago and are the Qataris route to Europe for their Academy graduates.
Processes like Aspires costs money and takes time, perhaps a decade, to bear fruit, but the money involved isn’t beyond Celtic’s grasp. As we continue to look to innovate, this case study is worth contemplating.