To watch Emile Smith Rowe play football, you would think he would have the confident, almost cocky, swagger off the pitch as he displays on it.
That could not be further from the truth.
The talented 20-year-old’s assured displays for Arsenal this season have been a significant driving factor in the Gunners’ resurgence after he broke into the first team.
After appearing in the Europa League earlier this season, Smith Rowe made his first Premier League start in the 3-1 win against Chelsea on 26 December. Since then, Mikel Arteta’s side have lost just one game whenever he has been on pitch.
He has started the past eight league matches, scoring once and making three assists, to help the Gunners to five wins and two draws – the only loss coming at Wolves on Tuesday, a match the Gunners ended with nine men.
But without a football at his feet, Smith Rowe is a quiet and reserved person who used to get incredibly nervous before playing in even under-17 games.
“He does not look shy when he crosses the white line,” former Crystal Palace striker Clinton Morrison said on BBC Radio 5 live.
“He has been excellent, you would never think he is a shy lad because he is always demanding the ball.”
Ex-Arsenal defender Matthew Upson added: “He does not play like he is nervous.
“He plays with real freedom and he expresses himself well. To say he is shy shows how different personalities come out on the pitch.”
So how did a shy and quiet young man from Croydon conquer his nerves to become one of the most exciting youngsters in the English top flight?
Moving out of his comfort zone
Smith Rowe’s impressive displays this season may have caught the eye of a wider football audience, but Arsenal fans have been well aware of the rising star they had in their ranks for some time.
Two years ago, Smith Rowe joined Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. Gunners supporters tweeted the German club so much urging them to play him – even when it was not a matchday – that their official Twitter account posted a tongue-in-cheek comment suggesting the noise they created was louder than a jet engine.
Injuries restricted Smith Rowe to a handful of appearances from off the bench at Leipzig, but the experience of moving to another country at just 18 would surely have helped develop the youngster’s confidence.
His next move, however, would see him gain significantly more game time and once again provide a different experience to what he was used to within the Arsenal environment.
A little more than a year ago, he made the move to Championship side Huddersfield Town. The Terriers had only recently dropped out of the Premier League but, at the time of Smith Rowe’s move, they were fighting to avoid relegation to League One.
Arsenal were understandably protective of one of their most promising talents and Huddersfield had to convince the Gunners that a second-tier relegation battle would be the right environment for him.
David Webb, Huddersfield’s head of football operations at the time, played a key role in bringing in Smith Rowe, having previously tried to sign him when he was at Arsenal’s north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
“After that, I kept in contact with his agent as well as Arsenal,” Webb told BBC Sport.
“I saw he was getting intermittent game time. So we approached Arsenal and had to go through a process and do a presentation.”
Smith Rowe featured regularly for Huddersfield and scored what proved to be a crucial winner against West Bromwich Albion in the penultimate game of the season to all but preserve the Terriers’ Championship status.
“It was a different challenge for him altogether at Huddersfield and I think it really helped him,” added Webb.
“The training was quite competitive and physical, which he enjoyed and he took it on to the pitch. He was getting knocked and kicked and bullied about a bit, but he took it all in his stride.
“That really developed his fighting spirit, which has helped him now because he came into Arsenal when they were in a bit of a dip and they needed that.”
Onwards and upwards
Smith Rowe is only at the start of his Arsenal career and both he and the club will be well aware of keeping expectations in check, but there is little doubt his impact in the team right now is just what the Gunners required.
Since his first start just after Christmas, Arsenal have gone from being talked of as relegation rivals by West Brom boss Sam Allardyce to looking up towards a finish in the European places.
“The manager, the staff, the assistant all have a role to help him,” former England international Karen Carney said on BBC Radio 5 live.
“He is at a massive club. He is going to need people to make him come out of his shell on and off the pitch. There is no question about his talent and ability.
“The more he plays the more confident he will get.
“If he is shy, imagine what he will be like when he is confident. It is scary.”