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Omari Hutchinson: Hale End's Disappointing Darling

By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)

Last week, Arsenal starlet Omari Hutchinson left Arsenal's famous Hale End academy for Chelsea, and a majority of Arsenal fans would probably tell you that it's a damn shame. An outrageously skillful player, Hutchinson played first as a midfielder, and then as a forward, for Arsenal's academy teams from the U-12 division all the way through the first team. Though he signed for Arsenal from Charlton Athletic at the age of 11, his star ascended before he had even signed his first scholarship contract in May of 2015.

The subject of a viral F2 Freestylers video, he rose to fame at a Pele Tournament, which was an international footballing competition hosted in South London by the Brazilian legend. Hutchinson participated in a skills competition with the F2, who showed up to support young talents after the tournament was over. Dazzled by his audacity, close control, and freestyle technique, they reached out to his mother to ask if they could film a video with him. At the age of 12, Hutchinson was an international sensation, before anybody had ever heard of Bukayo Saka or Emile Smith Rowe. At that tournament, Pele himself described a young Hutchinson as "amazing." Talk about paving your own path.

After his brief bout with the limelight, Hutchinson continued to ignite the passion of his ardent supporters, with dazzling foot skills, excellent movement, and pinpoint finishing, not to mention his famous handspring-into-backflip celebration. He simply oozes flair and class in every aspect of his game. He's a joy to play with, and a pain in the ass to defend. The type of player Arsenal typically outbid to retain.

They showed that intent early, signing Hutchinson to his first pro deal in 2020, at the tender age of 16. From that point on, the young London-born forward, who recently earned his first senior international cap for Jamaica having made inroads to the England setup all throughout his youth, began to make a name for himself with the first team. Not to mention, he's been among the top scorers at Hale End in his five years there, and has provided more assists and created more chances than any other academy star during that time.

Often invited to first team training under Mikel Arteta's tutelage, the former futsal wizard has spent the last two preseasons with the squad, and has featured in a nuber of club friendlies, including in the 4-1 win against Brentford last month. Hutchinson also rode the bench and reserves of the first team last season, with U-23 duties not precluding him from filling out the edges of Arteta's skeleton crew. Everything seemed perfectly poised for Hutchinson to take his first steps into Premier League life.

Then, disaster. The 18-year-old didn't travel on Arsenal's preseason tour to America because of ongoing contract discussions, which stalled just after Arsenal beat Nurnberg, before turning their focus across the pond. A week later, on the 15th of July, Hutchinson signed for Chelsea, after reports of The Blues' interest surfaced the day before. What caused Hutchinson to leave? We'll never know.

Of course, theories abound. Per newly controversial Chris Wheatley, Chelsea outbid Arsenal and it's simple as that, but others cite competition within the squad—Hutchinson would have to outbid Saka, Nicolas Pepe, Reiss Nelson, and fellow academy star Marcelo Flores to make inroads in a wider role, and the No. 10 position is sealed tight by Ødegaard, Smith Rowe, and Fabio Vieira. And given that Chelsea just rinsed their entire academy out of deadwood, making a move to a team with a more direct path to first team football could have been a good career move for Hutchinson.

Still others blame Kia Joorabchian. The super agent was a good friend of Arsenal's former director of football, Don Raul Sanllehi, but once the Spaniard left the club in a disgrace, leaving behind a smattering of Joorabchian's sub-par clients, all of whom have been excised from the club one by one with Cedric Soares as the remainder, Kia became far less fond of Arsenal than he used to. Some might suggest his influence over Hutchinson may have caused him to choose Stamford Bridge as his new home.

Whatever the case, Arsenal have lost a possibly generational talent, and though I wish Hutchinson all the best, I can't help but mourn what might have been.

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