Getting To Know: Emile Smith Rowe
Photographer: Ross Cooke / Stylist: Carlotta Constant / Words: Carl Escoffier
Emile Smith Rowe goes by many names; Croydon De Bruyne, Arsenal’s future No.10, or as he prefers it, just ‘Emz.’
The 20-year-old midfielder enjoyed a stellar season last time out, well and truly cementing his place in Arsenal’s first team. Emz has been with the academy since he was 10 years old and his ascension to the highest level came as little surprise to those around him. Even before his time in the spotlight of the Premier League, he was already making noise. At the tender age of 16, he was already turning out for Arsenal’s Under-23’s, and his big stage moment came when he was an integral part in the U-17 England World Cup victory, playing alongside the likes of Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
However, unlike those players, an all-access pass to the Premier League did not come as easy for Emz. He had to grind for it. Loan spells in Germany’s RB Leipzig and Huddersfield Town were a necessary part of the course for the midfielder before top flight football beckoned him back. The midfielder replied in kind, delivering star performances throughout the season including a goal against Chelsea, a team that once rejected him as a youth player for being ‘too small.’ Now he’s made everyone aware that he’s a big game player.
We called up Chunkz to sit and chat with Emz about his time growing in South London, gaining confidence on the pitch and his go-to Nando’s order.
You were brought up in Thornton Heath Croydon. What was it like growing up there?
It was difficult, man.
What were your greatest memories?
Playing football with my brother and Dad in the cages.
I remember the cages! Who were in your cages? Who were you playing with then?
I didn’t really know anyone. I was a bit quiet, I kept myself to myself.
Okay, so your favourite thing about South London?
Morleys. Every day after school, I’d get a little burger with three wings and a humble coke.
Who first introduced you to the game and how did the journey of Emile Smith Rowe start?
Same again, my brother, my dad. They are big football fans, obviously. My brother’s an Arsenal fan, my dad’s a Spurs fan but he’s always supported me, I’ve always come first. There’s always a little banter with Spurs.
You’re known as someone who’s willing to learn. Where did that come from? Why are you like that?
From my parents. They are both teachers so I’ve always been willing to learn. It was always football, but at the same time, I had to try and put my head down in school.
Does that mindset creep into all aspects of your life?
100%. I feel like they’ve taught me so much on and off the pitch. I’ve become a better person.
Let’s go back to the U17 World Cup-winning team. So many mad names in there, when you were together, did you know your linkup was so special?
It was a living in the moment vibe. We all knew each other from playing against each other. And finally being in the same team, playing together, bro, the way we used to smoke and beat teams. When you’ve got Callum and Sancho in the same team, they are so skillful. Bro what they used to do, it’s crazy.
Together, it’s such an incredible experience, have you bonded, do you still chat today?
Yeah definitely, obviously when we play against each other, we always want to swap shirts, it’s always good to see each other and always good to stay in contact. I feel like that’s important for us young players.
The boss (Mikel Arteta) has touted you to be one of the best No.10’s in Europe. What would you consider your greatest weapon?
It’s a big compliment. For me, I just want to stay focused. I try to stay off social media, stay focused, keep my feet on the ground.
Obviously you and Bukayo Saka on the same team, from the youths to up there. So how does that feel? For you? In terms of you and your guy making it. How long have you known him?
Literally, it’s probably the best feeling. I’ve known B since I was about 12/13. He’s younger than me, so I didn’t get to train with him that much but when we grew up, he’s been so good. Honestly, I can’t explain the feeling. When we step on the pitch together. When I’m behind him or he’s behind me, I just think it’s mad.
Who is the greatest teacher in your career outside of your family?
My under-18 coach. Kwame (Ampadu), he’s actually Ethan Ampadu’s dad. He used to be my coach, he used to help me so much. I think he really put me on, shoutout to him.
Which player have you come up against and thought he’s bare underrated, people don’t talk about him enough?
There are a few players, like Curtis Jones. I went to the England U21 Euros with him and he’s a joke. Eze as well. Silly bro.
What is a current song you like to play in the dressing room, before a game?
Rick Ross’ ‘Ima Boss’.
When you were a young footballer, there’s so much to talk about in your development as a player. So what’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt about yourself over the years, developing your game?
Being more confident on the pitch. I used to be quite shy as a young player. So stepping out of my comfort zone, learning new things, it’s always been a big thing for me and taking it on board.
As a footballer, you’re constantly looked at as someone who should have all the answers at all times. Is there something you do in your life that allows you to have a certain freedom to try and fail at new things?
Not really. I’ve just gotta keep trying, no matter what. And never giving up. I see that with my motivation. My family always tell me never to give up on anything.
So off the pitch, if you’re not training, if you’re not playing a match, what are you doing?
It depends. Sometimes just chilling and playing Playstation. But if I do wanna step out, a little Nandos with the mandem.
What’s your order? What do you get?
I can switch it up. Normally, I’ll go medium chicken thighs and some PERi-tamer chicken wings and I like a Fanta.
Let’s talk about your other hobbies in sports. Granit Xhaka told me you’re a table tennis man. He told me you were alright but he had to humble you.
Don’t get it twisted. He did not say that. I’m gonna chat with him tomorrow. Granit said he’s good at tennis as well, I want to play him at that.
Nicknames. I’m hearing you’re referred to as the Croydon De Bruyne. What do you think about that?
I’ve heard that too much. It changes every day. Croydon De Bruyne, KDB, most people just call me Emz.
What is your greatest ambition?
I want some trophies. Premier League. It’s coming home soon, don’t worry man. We’re working.
Let’s talk about drip. Do you dress yourself?
I dress myself.
Who comes with the best drip in the changing room?
There’s a few to be fair. The colours that Auba comes with… I’ve never seen him in the same outfit. His cars too are silly. Joe Willock has got it, Reiss, as well. Hector’s different. Laca(zette) as well, let me put him in there.
Who’s got the driest?
I’m not here for that, I’ll get in trouble. I can’t do this to anyone in my team. You know who I’m gonna say, just because he makes me laugh every day, Cedric Soares. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just not for me. He wears the tightest jeans I’ve ever seen, and because he’s a little stocky, small, comes with a little bomber jacket. I love him though.