Reiss Nelson says his season-long loan move from English Premier League club Arsenal to Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim has surpassed all his expectations.
The 19-year-old England youth international had only made two Premier League appearances when he made the switch in summer 2018, but has gone on to enjoy regular first-team football at Germany’s top table.
"It’s crazy," Nelson told Mirror Online. "I would never expect myself to be in a big league like this and playing regularly at the top level, as a teenager, but I just take every day and keep practising, keep asking questions of my teammates and my coaches so I can learn all the time that I’m here in Germany. It’s just a case of keeping my feet on the ground, but I’ve enjoyed every minute so far."
Watch: Reiss Nelson - "Very happy at Hoffenheim"
'I feel like a man now'
After scoring on his Bundesliga debut in mid-September, Nelson has added a further five goals and one assist in 13 league outings. He missed Hoffenheim’s first two games of 2019 with a back problem, but returned this past weekend, making a 29-minute cameo from the bench in the 1-1 draw with Fortuna Düsseldorf. Despite only making five starts, he is averaging a goal every 87 minutes and is second to Andrej Kramaric in the Sinsheim club’s scoring charts.
"I’m very happy here in Germany and playing and scoring," Nelson said. "I didn’t feel that confident when I left Arsenal. Now I feel like a man and I know a year at Hoffenheim will help me. I have my family with me in Heidelberg, which is a great place to be. We go out as a family to nice restaurants – life is good. I’ll do my job as long as I’m here."
Watch: Reiss Nelson was named Bundesliga Rookie of the Month back in October
'Reiss has become a world star'
Nelson, who signed a long-term deal with Arsenal prior to his Hoffenheim move, isn’t the only Brit lighting up the Bundesliga. Best friend Jadon Sancho - who left the Manchester City youth team for Borussia Dortmund as a 17-year-old - has developed into one of football’s most sought-after wingers, while Reece Oxford, Rabbi Matondo and Emile Smith Rowe have all joined the exodus of Premier League upstarts seeking career breakthroughs in Germany.
But Nelson isn’t just inspiring young footballers to move out of their comfort zone. Closer to home, he has acquired role model status among youths growing up, as he did, on the tough Aylesbury estate in south London - seen by many as a symbol of the failure of British social housing.
"Reiss has been back to give some of the young lads advice and some mentoring," said Nelson’s former headteacher at the London Nautical School, Neil Atherton. "It’s great that he took the time to do that. Boys around here need positive role models like him. He really is an inspiration to other boys here – they see a boy from South London who has now become a world star."