Henri Lansbury interview: Nottingham Forest captain has no regrets over Arsenal exit
By Nick Lustig
Last Updated: 16/12/15 6:50pm
Henri Lansbury talks to Sky Sports about leaving boyhood club Arsenal, his role as Nottingham Forest captain and turning down a reunion with Sean Dyche at Burnley.
Not many players would ever want to leave the bright lights of the Premier League - especially if the club you were leaving was the one you idolised and supported growing up. However, the desire to prove himself in the professional game saw Henri Lansbury do just that, ending a 13-year association with boyhood club Arsenal to join Championship outfit Nottingham Forest in 2012.
It was a decision the former England Under-21 international did not take lightly.
Lansbury, who joined Arsenal in 1999 as a nine-year old, had hoped to carve a future for himself with the Gunners and become a vital player for manager Arsene Wenger. He made his debut for Arsenal in 2007, just days after his 17th birthday, replacing Theo Walcott during the closing stages of a 3-0 League Cup victory over Sheffield United at Emirates Stadium. Lansbury had fulfilled a dream; the top flight beckoned for him.
A bout of glandular fever ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign, but successful loan spells with Scunthorpe United, Watford and Norwich soon followed as Arsenal attempted to broaden Lansbury's footballing education. He was finally handed his Premier League debut in 2010 and was rewarded with a new long-term contract a year later, earning high praise from Wenger.
"I believe he has the talent to play for Arsenal Football Club," Wenger said. He was also being billed as a future England international following his exploits for the U21s, scoring five goals in 16 appearances. But regular first-team football under the Frenchman did not materialise for Lansbury and his final match for Arsenal proved to be as a late substitute in the embarrassing 8-2 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in August 2011.
Lansbury joined West Ham on a season-long loan shortly after that loss and played a part in their promotion back to the Premier League before he took the decision to leave Arsenal permanently for Forest the following summer. And it is a decision he does not regret.
"At the time, I spoke to Arsene and he said I was not guaranteed to play every week, which you can understand being at Arsenal as it is a top club and probably one of the best in the world. They have the best players and being a young player there, it is tough to come through," Lansbury told Sky Sports.
"If I am not playing, I am not the type of person that wants to sit around and play reserve games. I want to be involved and playing first-team football every week. I think the main thing for a young player is to go out and play as many first-team games as you can.
"Having gone out on loan and played first-team football, I just needed to move permanently and regularly play first-team football. I couldn't have sat there and waited about. But you see some of the boys that have done that, Francis Coquelin for example. I was with him and we were in the same boat. He's waited about, got his chance and he's taken it very well."
But does Coquelin's surprising rise at Arsenal mean Lansbury is now casting an envious eye at events back at his former club?
"I don't really think about it, but maybe if I did wait about, then I might have got my chance. But I can't fault wanting to go out and play every week. You enjoy life much more playing first-team football every week rather than reserve matches where you don't get much out of it," he said.
Lansbury is certainly enjoying life now. He is the linchpin of Forest's midfield and the club's creative spark, despite being deployed in a deep-lying midfield role by manager Dougie Freedman this season.
Chris Cohen's persistent problems with injury saw Lansbury named as Forest captain last season and the 25-year-old is relishing the added responsibility now on his shoulders.
"In the changing rooms, I am not a captain that shouts at the players, I want to lead from performance and encourage the boys and look after them on the pitch. It is nice to be given the opportunity to be captain of a football club," Lansbury said.
"I feel I have done alright, I feel I have grown into it and I know now what I have to do on the pitch and off the pitch as captain. I think it has made me a more mature player."
However, Lansbury's future at the City Ground was far from certain at the beginning of the season.
Burnley, fresh from their relegation from the Premier League, wanted Lansbury to spearhead their push for an immediate return and were willing to spend £4m to acquire his services.
His exit would have been a desperate loss for Forest, with the club already hampered by a transfer embargo. The Clarets thought they had their man when their bid was accepted by Forest, but following talks with chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi, Lansbury decided to stay put. Again, it is a decision he does not regret.
"Obviously Burnley were very interested and I have worked with Sean Dyche before at Watford and he's a very good manager. He would probably get a lot out of me. But I thought it was right to stay at Forest," he said.
"The way the boys started the season, we were playing well and it was like 'do I leave now or do I stay?' At that stage, I was playing well and didn't want to leave. Obviously it was a gut feeling to stay, but like I said, Sean is a great manager and I might work with him in the future.
"It is a big part of the game feeling settled as a player. It is nice being settled in somewhere and obviously being captain as well, it made sense to stay at Forest and show them what I can do."
Forest face Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Monday - live on Sky Sports 2 HD and Sky Sports 5 HD - aiming to move within four points of the play-off positions with a victory.
Nearly two decades have passed since Forest were last in the top flight and Lansbury believes they have the players capable of mounting a surge for promotion this season.
"I think with the squad that we have got, it is a great squad. Obviously with the transfer embargo, we cannot buy any players, so it is that little bit harder as we can't boost our push for promotion with new players," Lansbury said.
"But anything can happen in this league, we can put a run together and get into the top-six places. Anything can happen in the play-offs. Every young player wants to get back to the Premier League."