They call him the ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ but Arsenal’s rising star Emile Smith Rowe was actually born in Thornton Heath and is another one of our small town’s success stories. 

The talented youngster who has been compared to Manchester City’s world class midfielder Keven De Bruyne, joins the growing list of luminaries to come out of The Ends who have gone on to excel in the world of sport.Smith Rowe, 20, who was courted by Tottenham, Chelsea and Barcelona in his academy days  when just aged 15, has no problems with comparisons to great players and relishes learning from the very best in the game.

While in Thornton Heath he played on Sunday’s for Beckenham based Junior Elite FC founded by the former professional footballer Colin Omogbehin whose other notable graduates include Manchester United Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who also hails from Croydon and started his career at Crystal Palace.

Omogbehin said of Smith Rowe who he recognised as having ‘something special’. “He was never boastful. He was always humble. Always respectful. Credit must go to his mum and dad for that.”

His Arsenal career started back in 2010 when he signed for the Gunners as a 10-year-old. His parents Fiona and Les, who both work in education found it difficult to travel two hours daily to drop off Emile at Hale End where Arsenal’s academy is, so they so decided to relocate. They try to get to every game their son plays in and it is them who instilled in him the importance of hard work and respect.

 As a shy teenager Smith Rowe was asked where he was born, and to make the interviewer’s life as straightforward as possible, he replied “Croydon”, figuring this was more recognisable than going into the details of Thornton Heath.

In a Sky interview recently, he said: “I’ve met a lot of big headed people and I really don’t want to be like that. My family have helped me to stay humble and keep my feet on the ground.”