Where are they now? Kwame Ampadu
Former Republic of Ireland Under-21 international Kwame Ampadu is back where it all began in terms of his career in professional football.
As a 17-year-old, the midfielder signed for Arsenal after spells with Irish youth sides Sherrads United and Belvedere. He made two league appearances for the Gunners before going on to play some 433 matches in the Football League for the likes of Plymouth Argyle (loan), West Brom, Swansea City, Leyton Orient and Exeter City.
Ampadu hung his boots up in 2006, having also played non-league football for Newport County and Tiverton Town. He then took up a coaching position at Exeter City and then returned to Arsenal in 2012 where he has held a variety of roles in the club's academy since.
"The chance to come and work at Arsenal was one that I couldn't turn down," comments Ampadu. "I started out with Arsenal coaching the under-14s before taking on the under 16s and I'm now in my second year working with the under-18s.
"It's a full-on role, preparing and taking training sessions, talking with the boys and going through video analysis etc. I work with under-18s manager Frans de Kat - I'm his assistant, if you like."
As a player, Ampadu made his Arsenal debut as a substitute in a 3-1 win at Derby County on March 24, 1990 before coming off the bench to make his first appearance at Highbury against Everton on March 31, 1990.
"Coming on in front of a full house at Highbury against Everton was just an incredible experience," says Ampadu. "Playing in a team with the likes of Tony Adams, Steve Bould, David Rocastle and Michael Thomas was so special. All these players were hugely influential on the young players coming through at the time. Arsenal has always been a fantastic club and it's great to be back with them again working in the academy."
In February 1994, Ampadu moved from West Bromwich Albion to Swansea City. By his own admission the player "went from playing in West Brom reserves one month, to playing at Wembley the next" as one of his first-ever appearances for the Swans came in the Football League Trophy Final of April 24, 1994.
"Walking out at Wembley against Huddersfield was incredible," smiles Ampadu. "It was a tight match and ended up going to a penalty shootout. I scored one of the penalties as we went on to win. It was the icing on the cake on a brilliant day from start to finish."
Ampadu's Swansea debut had come against Barnet in a 2-0 victory at the Vetch Field on February 18, 1994. It was the first of 144 league games he would play for the Swans through until 1998, that also saw a second Wembley appearance for the Division Three Play-Off Final of May 24, 1997.
"We were seconds away from taking that Play-Off Final against Northampton to extra-time and I honestly think we would have won if we'd had the extra 30 minutes," reflects Ampadu. "But Northampton scored with the last kick of the game. It was very disappointing as I felt we were definitely the better team on the day."
There were a host of different managers at the Vetch Field during Ampadu's four years with Swansea and a number of those made a big impression on the former Irish U21 midfielder.
"Frank (Burrows) was the stand-out manager in my time at Swansea," adds Ampadu. "Back in 1994, British football wasn't known for the quality of football we get in the Premier League today. 4-4-2 was the standard formation and most teams across the divisions played in a particular way. But Frank was different. We played 4-3-3, getting us passing the ball around and dominating opposition teams. His training was fantastic and it was all focused on working with the ball.
"Frank was a strong task master too. He worked you hard and was very honest. If you did well, he told you, the same way as he told you if you didn't do well. I still have immense respect for the man."
In his current role with Arsenal, Ampadu also had a huge amount of respect for the longest-serving manager currently at a Barclays Premier League club.
"All the academy coaches at Arsenal have the opportunity to watch first-team training sessions and see how Arsene Wenger does his job first-hand," says Ampadu. "Arsene's record obviously speaks for itself and it's incredible that the special style of football that Arsenal play at first-team level is carried through all the way down to the under-9 side. So much of that is down to Arsene and his relationship with his academy coaches."