Brian Stapleton didn’t hesitate when he saw 11-year-old Charlie Patino in action for the first time.
Stapleton was scouting for Arsenal at the time and recommended that the Gunners make a formal approach for the schoolboy, before Premier League rivals began to take notice of the youngster.
Those within Hale End have talked about Patino’s qualities for several years but it is only in the past few months where a first team opportunity looked a genuine possibility.
football.london caught up with Stapleton who provided more insight on the scouting process, how he found Patino and why the youngster is the best player he has ever scouted.
“When I went to watch Charlie I saw straight away the ability. His vision was unbelievable,” Stapleton told football.london.
“Even at that age he always had space and time. To see a kid at that age doing it, he would never have anyone on him when he received the ball and he knew his next move straight away.
“The first time I saw him I spoke to Arsenal about him. They said ‘what do you think?’ and I said ‘I’m not going to see him anymore. I’ve seen enough of this kid. If we can get him in you need to get him straight away and speak to Luton.’
“The first time I watched him I recommended him that day – I’ve never done that with any player.
“Everyone was interested him. When I first watched him nobody was aware of him. That’s why Arsenal had to act quickly, then before you know it Chelseawere there, Manchester City, Tottenham – every club wanted Charlie Patino.”
Stapleton has recommended many other established youngsters in recent years, including Nathan Tella who now plies his trade for Southampton, while Dan Ballard (Millwall on loan from Arsenal), Kido Taylor-Hart (Arsenal) and Mark McGuinness (Cardiff) are among the other names who were unearthed by the former Gunenrs scout.
However, there is one name that stands out.
“A special talent like Charlie doesn’t come around like that very often.
“The guy that took me to Arsenal – Shaun O’Connor – who scouted Jack Wilshere said to me that Charlie is the best kid who has come through Hale End.
“Shaun is the Dennis Bergkamp of scouting. He was my inspiration and got me involved in scouting. We went to the same school and that’s how I started working at Arsenal.
“I hadn’t seen him for years and he said he was looking for someone to cover the Hertfordshire area for Arsenal. He asked if I’d be interested in working for the club. I told him I’d walk to Hale End to get a job! It was a dream, my love and my life. I’ve even named my boy Charlie Liam after Charlie George and Liam Brady.”
Patino scored on his first team debut for Arsenal after coming on as substitute in the Carabao Cup quarter-final win over Sunderland.
It was a moment that Patino himself had prepared himself for only a few hours before the game, after being drafted into the squad when Calum Chambers tested positive for COVID-19.
“When Charlie came on for Arsenal, honestly, that was the best Christmas present that I’ll ever get,” Stapleton said.
“I was just happy to for him to be in the squad, to be honest and when I saw him coming on, I was like ‘wow’. I had a tear in my eye when he came on, but when he scored I was thinking ‘did that really happen?’
“All my life scouting wise, my goal was to get a boy in the Arsenal first team to play at the Emirates. It’s fantastic, the feeling is unbelievable.
“He [Patino] gets into spaces without anyone around him. Just before he scored, [Nuno] Tavares was running down the left wing. Charlie was on the edge of the box in a shooting position, and he got into a space with noone around him again.
“Charlie’s always two steps ahead. Before he gets the ball he already knows what he’s doing. It’s a simple thing but you can’t teach it.”
“When I go and watch a player I don’t watch the game, I just watch that player. On a laptop you wouldn’t be able to see that. You wouldn’t be able to see when the player is warming up and other aspects.
“I went to watch Charlie in his school games. I wanted to see whether he put the same commitment in. If I scouted a boy and knew where he trained, I’d scout him from a distance to see if his body language was the same as when he’s paying for the club.”
After 13 years scouting for Arsenal, Stapleton still searches for the next young talents on a part time basis with a respected football agency while combining it with his day job at the Royal Mail.
With Patino gradually being integrated into the first team, it surely won’t be long before the England youngster is delivering on the potential that Stapleton first spotted seven years ago.