Daniel Boateng only ever played once for Arsenal – but the Londoner considers that game as the highlight of his career so far and is just grateful to still be playing football.
Boateng spent over a decade in Arsenal’s academy, signing a professional contract in 2010 and making his debut for the first team the following year, but by 21 he had been released having failed to add to that one appearance.
He has since gone on to play in Sweden, Scotland and Poland, but like many of the players we have spoken to in this One-Game Wonders series, Boateng is extremely proud to have represented such a big club – even if it was only once.
“It was an amazing experience,” he says. “I was fortunate as there are plenty of footballers who play the game but never get to play for such a big club as Arsenal. It was the best feeling ever.”
His big moment came against Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup in October 2011, when he was called up by Arsene Wenger and then introduced from the bench for the final six minutes of a 2-1 win at the Emirates. It was short, but sweet.
“I feel like that was testament to the hard work I’d been doing through the youth ranks,” he says. “Obviously, I would have liked for the time I got to be a bit more, but football’s not an easy game, especially when you’re at a big team like Arsenal.
“It’s still the greatest feeling, I’ve not done anything else in football that can match that.”
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A few months later, as is the case for many youngsters at Arsenal, Boateng was sent out on loan to further his development. He joined Swindon Town in League Two for the second half of the 2011-12 season, and though he played only twice, working with Paolo Di Canio was another experience he looks back on fondly.
“Being at Swindon was good. Di Canio is a brilliant coach when it comes to training sessions on the field, he even still joins in training. Probably off the field is where his problem was, hence why he’s out of the game.
“He’s small in stature, but his character made him a giant in the room. He was a very passionate guy and a perfectionist. He always looked at the small details and tried to make everything perfect.
“I definitely enjoyed my time with Swindon, I learned a lot with Di Canio, but I got into an off-the-field problem which cut my loan short, which is why it didn’t go according to plan.”
Boateng had further loan spells at Oxford United and Hibernian, but when he was eventually released by Arsenal he did not drop down into the Football League but instead moved to Sweden to play for third-tier outfit Södertälje FK.
He would advise any young player in a similar position leaving a big club to follow his lead.
“I do believe that for players who get released from Arsenal, going abroad is the best option,” he says. “League One, League Two, Conference, if we’re being honest, it doesn’t suit players who are coming from Arsenal and a few other Premier League teams.
“It doesn’t suit our style, as it’s a lot different, it’s end-to-end, there’s not really much of the ball on the ground. I am not saying players can’t do it, but players need time to adapt to that kind of style. I would say, for the majority, going abroad suits us more.”
“It was challenging because I was at Arsenal from the age of 10 right through to 21 so it was all I knew at the time.
“Even though I went on loans to a few teams, it just wasn’t the same, so after I was released I could only look to myself and carry on fighting to keep this dream alive.
“There’s quite a few other players that I’ve played with who have packed it in, they’re not players anymore, they’re doing nine to fives. It’s sad as that wasn’t the plan, but sometimes life can be cruel.
“It was a decent league (in Sweden), there were some decent technical players, the pace was obviously a lot slower, and it is just as enjoyable.”
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Following a season back in Britain with Scottish side Airdrie, Boateng decided to head back abroad earlier this year when the opportunity arose to join Raków Częstochowa, a club based in the most religious city in Poland, where many pilgrimage but rarely visit for the second division football team.
“The football over here is really good, it’s underrated,” Boateng says. “A lot of people don’t know what it’s about, but there are some very good players over here.
“You get a good mixture of technical and physical players as well. The pace is pretty strong, so you have to be strong to play in Poland, so I am definitely enjoying my time.
“Off the field the only difficulty I am having is the language barrier. No one really speaks English over here, so communication is a bit hard. But everything else is alright, there are good people over here and I am enjoying it.”
Now that Boateng has fully understood that his style and attributes are best utilised abroad, he will be quite happy simply to consider any opportunities in the future, knowing he is fulfilling his ambitions of playing football for a living while many of his former team-mates have dropped out of the game.
“I am one of these guys, I am not scared to challenge myself,” he says. “There are other players who enjoy being in their comfort zone.
“For instance there are young English players who possibly could have gone abroad but they would rather stay in England and be comfortable, even though they don’t like the league or the kind of football they’re playing. They go for comfort rather than chasing the dream.
“I am enjoying playing football overseas, I don’t feel like coming back to England, to play in League One, League Two or Conference. I feel playing abroad suits my style more than the lower leagues in England.”
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