Bukayo Saka was model student with A* GCSEs who snubbed Chelsea for Arsenal and is England's new hero at Euro 2020

IT was a performance where Bukayo Saka came of age on the biggest stage.

Arsenal fans will tell you how impressed they've been with the 19-year-old since he's broke into the Gunners team in 2018, not just with his all-action displays but also his maturity.



Against Czech Republic in the Euros, the talented winger produced a man-of-the-match display that'll surely give manager Gareth Southgate a selection headache ahead of the Three Lions' last-16 tie next Tuesday.

Saka was born and raised in Ealing, West London, where he was taught the importance of being grounded and humble by his Nigerian immigrant parents.

It's a trait that has served the teenager well as he rapidly ascended through the Arsenal ranks, with coaches comparing him to Cristiano Ronaldo.

He attended Greenford High School, where he juggled football with his education.

And the now-poster boy for New Balance blitzed through his studies – leaving with four A*s and three As in his GCSE's.

'ADDS TO HAPPINESS'

The name 'Bukayo' originates from the Yoruba tribe who are found in southern Nigeria.

Ironically, it translates to 'adds to happiness', which is exactly what Saka has done for Arsenal and England fans since he exploded on the scene.

It all began for the forward at the Premier League giants' Hale End academy at the age of seven before signing for the club at nine.

His father, a Newcastle fan who loved Alan Shearer, took Bukayo to his first match when he was eight at St James' Park, and he simply fell in love with the game.


As he progressed through the ranks in North London, he struck up a relationship with his idol Freddie Ljungberg while they worked together in the U15s.

There was talk of him pursuing his career elsewhere, with the likes of Spurs and Chelsea hoping to lure the youngster away from Arsenal.

But they stoodno chance of taking him away from his first love.

"I had invitations from Spurs, Chelsea, Fulham and Watford but the only choice was Arsenal," explained Saka.

"I enjoyed the way that they played so the choice was easy for me."

Saka was compared to Portuguese superstar Ronaldo by coaches and was clearly a talent set for the top.

But he remained hard-working with the advice of his father ringing in his ears, and never got carried away with his success.

"He's a massive inspiration for me," Saka has said of his dad in the past.

"From when I was young, he always kept me grounded, kept me humble."

MODEL STUDENT

Saka's former teachers at Greenford High School paint a picture of a modest and exemplary pupil who was full of talent.


"He was quite a role model student to be honest with you," PE teacher Mark Harvey revealed to talkSPORT.

"He was a model student and academically sound across the board. He was very, very good at PE, a naturally talented sportsman.

"No matter what sport he played he’d always be very good at it. He had quite a small social group of friends, a close knit group of boys who are all still close now.

"But he was really pleasant student who was perceived well by his staff.

"Every single day you saw Bukayo, you saw he was active in some way shape or form."

Saka's former football coach at Greenford High School, Dipesh Patel has spoken of pride at his student's rapid rise.

"We are all so proud of him," he told Goal.

“We always knew he was amazing. But we obviously couldn’t have expected him to have had the last year-and-a-half that he has had, breaking into the Arsenal team, being such a massive player for them and then getting into the England squad.

“It’s just incredible the rise he has had."


Saka starred in Patel's school football team – helping them win the Borough Cup final.

Patel revealed how he was awe-struck by his ability at a young age.

“The first time I saw him it was just ‘wow’,” said Patel.

“He was very special. In his first year we lost in the Borough Cup final, but the next year we won it all.

"We won the Ealing Borough competition, the league, the cup and then we won the County Cup.

“For our school that was a first and maybe a last. It was incredible. It just had such a positive impact on our school and Bukayo was key to that.

"He just gave us that extra edge with his quality, especially in some of the tighter moments. But It wasn’t all about him. He was always such a massive team player."

HAILED BY A LEGEND

If it wasn't his teachers, it was Arsenal legends who were touting Saka for the top.

Not only did he have Ljungberg championing his cause, he also impressed Thierry Henry, who briefly spent time as an academy coach with the Gunners.

"You could see that he wanted to run at people," Henry said.

"He always wanted the ball and he was brave on the ball.





"It was too early to tell [how good he would be], but when I saw him breaking into the first team after I’d left, I was like wow. It’s amazing.

"I always liked the attitude of the kid and the commitment. What I like about him is that he cares about his club and he will do whatever to make sure that the team wins. You have to respect that."

Saka made his competitive debut for the club in 2018 in the Europa League against Vorskla Poltava – coming on as a 68th minute substitute for Aaron Ramsey.

In January, 2019 a Premier League debut came against Fulham in a 4-1 win – appearing off the bench in the 83rd minute.

His introduction made history as Saka became the first player born in 2001 to play in a Premier League match.

ACCOLADES KEEP COMING

In what has just been a tough season for his club, Saka has shone bright.

It was no wonder the Arsenal faithful voted him as their Player of the Season – winning a unanimous 51 per cent of the vote.

With seven goals and 10 assists in his 46 appearances, he carried his club at times.




Boss Mikel Arteta has repeatedly praised Saka for his performances, especially his "intelligence" that makes him unique on the pitch.

"We talk about physicality, we talk about spirit, we talk about technique. But the brain is the one that makes all the decisions," Arteta told Sky Sports.

"'B' makes a lot of good decisions because he is such an intelligent player who can read situations. After that, of course, he has the ability to execute them the right way and that's obviously a big quality."

It's a quality that England gaffer Gareth Southgate recognises, who has already given Saka five starts for his country.

Amazingly, he's won the Man of the Match award three times.

The question will remain all week; will he earn another in the last-16 clash? Well, he hasn't harmed his chances so far.

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