Brooke Norton-Cuffy joined Lincoln City in late January 2022, after mainly featuring in the Arsenal under 23s set up in the first half of last season.
The right-sided full-back, who has made his way through Arsenal’s academy system, made his debut for the 23s in the 2020/21 season aged just 16.
Arsenal decided that the next step in his development after making seven Premier League Two appearances was to send him out on loan, with Lincoln the destination.
BBC Radio Lincoln’s commentator Rob Makepeace said that when he first saw Norton-Cuffy at the club, he was impressed with how quickly he settled into life at the League One side.
“I remember speaking to him on the first day that he joined,” Makepeace recalled.
“You always wonder how a player taking his first loan will cope with taking that step up to men’s football, I think the biggest thing you can say with Brooke’s spell is that he didn’t look like a young player playing for the first time in the men’s game. He’s got that physicality about him that can really help at Championship and League One level.”
The Imps struggled last campaign and had to settle for a 17th place finish in League One, a stark comparison after losing in the play-off final the season before.
Michael Appleton also left his role following the conclusion of last season having managed over 150 competitive games for the club.
Despite a difficult campaign for Lincoln, Makepeace described Arsenal’s academy graduate as a positive.
“He was one of Lincoln’s bright sparks, it didn’t always go their way but he was a player who got the crowd on the edge of their seat, you always felt like something would happen especially when he was going forward and defensively he improved his game throughout that spell as well,” he added.
“After the initial settling-in period he just seemed to improve game by game, you could see his confidence growing, being a modern full-back, we got to see more of that attacking game that he can offer as the season went on and he did really well and the Lincoln fans took him to their hearts.”
League One football can be viewed as a big step up from academy and U23s football, with games being played at a much faster tempo and much more of a physical element.
Makepeace said this didn’t appear to phase the 18-year-old, taking it all in his stride as the season progressed.
“Brooke was a player who adjusted to the step up from academy football quite comfortably, I always say the biggest compliment I can give to a young player is that when they play they don’t look like a young player, they look like they’ve played many games at this level and Brooke certainly did that, he looked comfortable and in control, he stood up to the physicality and coped quite easily with all the challenges League One possesses,” he said.
Norton-Cuffy will now link back up with Arsenal as they return for pre-season on 27 June.
Most of the players will return to London Colney and Hale End on that date apart from a number of internationals who have been participating in international matches.
As pre-season progresses, a key decision will be made on what the next step is for Norton-Cuffy and his development.
Rob Makepeace reckons another loan spell might be on the cards.
“I think Lincoln would jump at the chance If they could get him back on loan, realistically whether he is going to play at League One level is another matter, he’s shown in the time at Lincoln that League One was comfortable but I suppose now that Arsenal decide, do we put him in a Championship club and try to get him regular football or do we try to keep him involved at first-team level at Arsenal and give him games in the cups and keep him involved on the fringes.”
“Lincoln would love him back, he’s was a great asset to the club last year but I think Arsenal will see Brooke’s development as going maybe a step higher. I think Championship will be the next step for Brooke and we’ve seen him playing internationally now , so it’s just about making the right choice for Brooke as well as Arsenal football club.”
Makepeace also praised the youngster’s attitude, claiming he felt he had all the right tools to make it to the top.
“He’s got everything there for him, he’s got a good head on his shoulders which is always a good attribute to have as a young footballer, he’s got the ability, the skill and the physicality to cope and it will just be about getting games under his belt next season. I think he’s got all the attributes to make it to the top, it’s just about getting the game time and you never know what will happen in his career.”
“For Brooke, I think it’s going to be a crucial couple of years but I think he’s one of those players who has got a really good chance of making it.”