If you were to ask any knowledgeable US Men’s National Team fan who they think the next “big thing” is for the national team, there’s a pretty good chance their response will be a young man by the name of Brek Shea.
The lanky, bleach blond winger has been one of the few bright spots in Jürgen Klinsmann’s short tenure at the helm of the USMNT. Shea has logged consistently solid performances for both club and country this season, and consequently, he’s received the lions share of the recent fan and media attention that had previously been reserved for Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore. Rumor is he’s even being tracked by some of Europe’s big boys.
For the most part, I’ve jumped on Shea’s bandwagon too. He’s quick for a kid of his size and strength, and is capable of taking part in an intelligent build up and executing the crafty flick here and there. He can play anywhere on the left flank, and seems to relish having the ball at his feel while he makes (sometimes overly) confident runs at defenders. His combination of speed, size and skill have even seen him go as far as to be labeled as the “American Gareth Bale” by at least one overly zealous writer. That said, he’s still a rough product that needs some development to unleash all of his potential.
But Brek’s potential is still considered of high enough quality to open up some doors this MLS off-season. At the urging of the Jürgs, the next “it” thing in US soccer has landed himself an enticing opportunity: a month-long training stint under the tutelage of Arsène Wenger at Arsenal.
As you could probably guess, this is a really good thing for Shea, MLS and US Soccer. First and foremost, Wenger is famous for his ability to bring out the best in young, talented players. Brek will almost certainly improve in small space situations through the training (after all, this is Arsenal we’re talking about), and hopefully he’ll gain some valuable insight by picking the brains of the Gunners’ big name stars.
Whether a month is enough time for the Frenchman to make a drastic impact on his development remains questionable, but he’ll still undoubtedly benefit from the drastically more competitive/intense training environment present at the Arsenal’s Colney training complex. Even greater dividends could be paid if he’s able to get the nod in a reserve match or two.
So while I’m elated for the guy, I can’t help but wonder why it was Arsenal where Shea landed. Yes, Arsenal are a “big” club with “top” players that looks nice on a press release. Yes, their manager is renown for unearthing diamonds in the rough. And yes, I know he’s going to get excellent training with the Gunners.
But, for those who do claim that Shea is the American version of Bale — a comparison I find a bit overblown for a number of reasons — where he’ll bomb up the left side of the pitch, scoring and providing world-class service, I just don’t think that’s Arsenal’s developmental forté.
Why? Quick, name me the last great winger that came out of Arsène Wenger’s squad.
Andrei Arshavin has looked more a flash in the pan than legend in the making. I hope you weren’t thinking Theo Walcott, seeing as he’s a self-professed center forward. Samir Nasri would be a good answer, but he played his best football for the Gunners while filling in through the middle during Fàbregas’ absence last year. You really have to stretch all the way back to Robert Pirès back in 2000-2006 before you get to the last world-class winger that called the Emirates/Highbury home.
Truth be told, Wenger’s teams usually employs inverted wingers. These guys generally aren’t pushing all the way down the touchline and trying to get off a cross, but instead they like to cut in from the flank towards the center. If precedent tells us anything, Arsene’s influence on the impressionable Shea will likely cause him to pinch inside a bit more frequently too.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Brek to hone this area of his game too. It’s just not entirely Bale-esque if you ask me… but then again, maybe that’s the point.
Is this a clue as to how Klinsmann is trying to shape our national team? Are we moving away from the traditional American 4-4-2 with wide wingers, and moving towards a more modern 4-3-3 with an interchangeable front three?
If we were really aiming to hone Brek in the Bale fashion, you would think we would have sent him somewhere that normally utilizes traditional wide wingers. If he had gone to Spurs, he could have learned from playing under Bale himself and Lennon. At Liverpool, he could have worked with Henderson and Downing. Or if he went to train with Manchester United, he could have been tutored by Nani, Park, Valencia and Young. Wouldn’t those players be better templates to mold a young player on that was going to be utilized on the wings of the pitch than with the inside cutters at Arsenal?
Of course, it is entirely possible that I’m reading way too much into this. Maybe Shea ending up in North London had more due to with being a random opportunity, a personal relationship that Klinsmann has with Arsenal’s management, or (more likely) the handy work of agents rather than a handpicked club that will sculpt Brek into a particular type of player.
Perhaps this is actually more of a trial than Arsenal are actually letting on at this point. The Gunners aren’t exactly a team with size, and you could see a use for Shea in Wenger’s side if he can develop properly. Assuming Arsenal are sizing up a potential move for the FC Dallas winger, you can understand MLS’s willingness to risk injury to Shea in a training arrangement. Considering they just inked Brek to a three-year extension earlier this season, his price tag should be significantly higher.
Let’s be honest though, we don’t really know all of the inner workings of why Shea is going to Arsenal, nor do we have any guarantees that the experience will be a gigantic boost to his abilities. All we can do is speculate and hope for the best… and maybe Arsène forcing him to get a haircut.