Even two weeks ago, the name Charlie Patino was familiar only to the Arsenal aficionados who follow the club’s academy teams.
But thanks to his own excellence on the pitch and the power of social media, the 17-year-old has quickly become the name on the lips of every Gunners fan.
The clamour for Mikel Arteta to hand Patino his first-team debut when Arsenal host AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup third round on Wednesday night has become almost deafening.
The buzz around 17-year-old Arsenal wonderkid Charlie Patino (right), seen here playing for the under-21 team in the Papa John’s Trophy, continues to grow
There is a chance Mikel Arteta (pictured with Patino) will hand the midfielder his first-team debut when Arsenal host AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night
This excitement is wholly understandable – Patino has been described as Arsenal’s best academy prospect for a generation and possibly ever.
Even when Arsenal’s scouts first discovered the elegant midfielder, he was a gifted 11-year-old playing two years above his age group in Luton Town’s under-13 ranks.
Patino has always been ahead of the curve and if you were to design the first-team debut for such a special talent, a home cup tie against League One opposition would be close to ideal.
A source close to Patino described how the buzz around the teenager ‘took on a life of its own’ after two videos of his recent performances went viral on Twitter.
The first was a compilation of Patino’s touches when Arsenal’s under-21 team lost to Swindon Town in the Papa John’s Trophy on September 7.
Wearing the No 87 shirt and the captain’s armband, it’s a showreel of smooth acceleration, quarterback-style long passes and unhurried composure in defence.
Patino captained the Arsenal side against Swindon in the EFL Trophy and really impressed
‘He was the stand-out player and the fans were absolutely mesmerised. There were gasps whenever he played a long ball,’ says someone present that night.
Four days later, the Arsenal Academy Twitter account posted a clip of Patino scoring a stunning individual goal for the under-23s in a 3-1 win over Manchester United.
Patino retrieves the ball 35 yards from goal, waltzes through the United defence, leaves Phil Jones helplessly sliding on his backside and then dinks the ball over England goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
The video racked up over one million views within the first 24 hours. There was absolutely no chance of keeping Patino under wraps after that.
Patino has been regularly involved with first-team training and is seen challenging Thomas Partey during a session earlier this month
Arteta and the Arsenal first-team players already know about him. Patino has been training alongside them regularly and held his own after replacing Mohamed Elneny in the behind-closed-doors friendly against Brentford on September 2.
After that, Arsenal’s senior players knew they could trust Patino in a game situation. The club already had a long-term plan to integrate him but recent events have ‘accelerated everyone’s thinking’, according to one source.
Barcelona have been linked with Patino and the onus is now on Arsenal to secure his long-term future when he turns 18 next month.
As Hale End graduates Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have shown, there is a pathway from academy to first team at Arsenal and Patino will hope to follow in their footsteps.
Emile Smith Rowe (left) and Bukayo Saka (right) have shown in recent years there is a pathway from the Arsenal academy to regular first team football
Brian Stapleton spent 13 years scouting for Arsenal and discovered Daniel Ballard, the Northern Ireland international currently on loan at Millwall, and Nathan Tella, now at Southampton.
But when he first watched Patino, then aged 11 but playing under-13 football at St Christopher School in Letchworth, he knew Arsenal had to act immediately.
‘He is the best kid I’ve ever scouted,’ Stapleton tells Sportsmail.
‘I said to Sean O’Connor, who was the head of my department at Arsenal, that I wouldn’t be going back to watch him again, I’d seen enough.
‘Nobody else knew about Charlie at the time and I said, “if we don’t act now, other clubs will start getting a sniff.”
Patino pictured when in Luton’s academy
‘I don’t sit on the fence when I make decisions. I knew this kid was special and he can be even more special in the future.
‘Normally, we compile five reports and we send five different scouts to watch a player. It’s all about doing your homework.
‘But with Charlie I said, “I understand Arsenal’s criteria with players but I’ll stick my head on the line.” I had to go with my gut feeling.’
That was back in 2015, when Patino was in Luton’s academy and spending more than 10 hours a week playing across various age groups.
He’d been playing formally since the age of five when he joined St Albans City Youth, close to his parents’ home in London Colney, Hertfordshire.
Patino moved on to Luton and was soon playing in age groups one or two years above because of his outstanding natural ability.
Despite Stapleton’s best efforts, Arsenal did face stiff competition from other leading clubs.
11-year-old Charlie was accompanied by dad Julio and mum Katy as they visited the training grounds of Chelsea and Tottenham, while Man City and Man United were also keen.
‘It was proper courting. He was known as a real talent within football circles even at the age of 11,’ says someone who recalls the scramble for Patino in 2015.
But Arsenal won the race, paying Luton, who were then in League Two, £10,000 in compensation. Chelsea offered double for Patino but he wanted to train at a club closer to home.
Patino takes on Tottenham during a Premier League 2 game for the under-23 team in August
Patino’s parents are both Spanish and though the midfielder has played up to under-17 level for England he is also eligible to play for Spain.
The Spanish influence runs deep. Patino names ex-Arsenal trio Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas and Arteta as the players he most admired growing up.
Though his father was a season ticket holder at Luton’s Kenilworth Road, he supports Deportivo La Coruna and the live matches from LaLiga on Sky Sports provided endless fascination for young Charlie.
‘Charlie doesn’t watch the Spanish football, he analyses it,’ Julio told Sportsmail back in 2015. ‘His mind is ticking away, watching the player movements and asking why they made certain decisions.
Arteta speaks one-on-one to Patino in training – the youngster names Arteta, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla as three of the players he most admired growing up
‘He is very intelligent. He would say his favourite team is Barcelona and he has definitely been influenced as a player by the Spanish style of football.’
That diligent study of the game was evident in Patino’s game even as a youngster.
‘His first touch was unbelievable, his vision and awareness of space was way above his years for a kid playing,’ says Stapleton.
‘You couldn’t help noticing him on the pitch. You come away thinking, “that kid was good.”
‘Even at that age he was turning his head to find the next move, he’d already looked.’
Progress through Arsenal’s academy teams has been swift. Patino received his first taste of under-18 football at the end of the 2017-18 campaign and played at that level more regularly in 2019-20.
Last season saw real progress, with Patino starting out with the under-18s and scoring a stylish 30-yarder at Rotherham United in the FA Youth Cup.
In January this year, he was given a first taste of under-23 football and more than held his own before a hamstring injury curtailed his season.
He also signed his first professional contract last October, posing with academy manager Per Mertesacker and an Arsenal shirt.
After signing, Patino called Stapleton and invited the scout over to the family home.
Arsenal give each player who signs two pens embossed with their name and the date presented in a black and gold box and Patino wanted the man who discovered him to have one of them as a thank you gift.
‘He’s a fantastic kid with a fantastic family behind him as well,’ says Stapleton.
‘He’s been so motivated from day one. On the pitch, he’s a winner, a fighter, but off the pitch he’s back to Charlie the nice kid.’
Patino rarely looks rushed when on the ball and has good defensive and offensive attributes
Growing fame doesn’t seem to have affected Patino. He interacts with fans on his Twitter account, subscribes to Gooner fanzine and donates signed shirts and boots to good causes.
The club regularly put him up for Q&A sessions in front of the parents of prospective academy players and he happily goes around local clubs to host end-of-season prize ceremonies.
Determined to continue his education, Patino is studying for a BTEC alongside his football while his growing profile led to a sponsorship deal with Adidas being agreed in July.
‘Charlie is very humble, respectful, polite and giving,’ says someone close to him. ‘He is the complete opposite of what people expect a young footballer to be. He will be the dream ticket if he pushes through to the first team.’
Those around Patino believe he has the attributes to play the No 6 role or further forward as a No 8 or a No 10. Patino himself would say the No 8 like Cazorla or Andres Iniesta.
Watching Patino play for Arsenal’s under-23 side in their 6-1 drubbing of Chelsea at Kingsmeadow on Sunday, it was possible to see elements of all three roles.
The left-footer operated in a broad space between the two penalty areas, showing both defensive and offensive traits.
Patino will hope to earn his first-team debut for Arsenal soon after impressing at under-23 level
But the overriding impression of Patino, whether hemmed into his own half or striding forward, is that he never once looked rushed.
While it’s true that under-23 football affords more time on the ball and more space in which to operate than senior football, it wasn’t difficult to see what the fuss is all about.
On several occasions, determined tracking back stopped Chelsea from scoring and this became more important after Arsenal defender Omar Rekik was sent off in the 36th minute.
Arsenal were three up at the time and would go on to score three more goals, with Patino continuing to push forward at every opportunity despite the numerical disadvantage.
Highlights included pinged diagonal balls looking for Arsenal’s wide players – though a couple skimmed out of play on a wet surface – and the assist for Fola Balogun to make it 3-0.
Patino spun 25 yards from goal and slipped Balogun through on goal with a reverse ball all in one smooth movement.
Once again, a video compilation on Twitter was racking up hundreds of likes. The only question now is whether Mikel Arteta was watching.