WHEN Isaac Hayden swapped the capital for East Yorkshire shortly before the start of the new season, he was expecting life to be something of an eye-opener.
Born in Chelmsford and spirited away to the Emirates from Southend United at the age of 14, the midfielder had lived his entire 20 years in the south of England.
So, a move up north was always going to bring new challenges but Hayden, as articulate off the field as he is impressive on it, admits to relishing life – even if it means getting stuck in a traffic jam like none the midfielder had experienced in north London.
“It is very different to what I had been used to,” said the Tigers loanee as the Championship takes a break for the resumption of Euro 2016 qualifiers.
“For instance, during my first week, I was driving along and, suddenly, there was a herd of cows in the middle of the road. I thought, ‘Really?’ You don’t get that in the centre of London.
“So, in that sense, it has been very different. But I am enjoying it. It is fantastic in terms of making me grow up. I am living on my own, away from home.
“It is a pretty quiet area to the west of Hull. There are so many nice villages, and the people have been really nice and friendly. I love how quiet it can be. You don’t have the hustle and bustle of people like you do in London.
“That allows me to focus 100 per cent on what it is I want to achieve. That is playing football and developing my game.”
In terms of developing his game, Hayden’s move north has been a case of so far, so good.
The 20-year-old has quickly become a useful cog in the City midfield, his opening day debut against Huddersfield being followed by a couple of game-changing appearances from the bench.
Against Preston North End a week ago, he was brought on by Steve Bruce to ensure there would be no late scares in a 2-0 win.
In that respect, Hayden is in a similar situation to fellow Arsenal loanee, Chuba Akpom. Like his fellow Gunners Academy graduate, Akpom has made a positive early impression in the East Riding and already has a couple of goals to his name.
The pair are good friends, as is perhaps to be expected considering their shared history at Arsenal.
“We have been through a lot together as players,” said Hayden.
“We have been together since under-14s, been in first team squads together for the first time, England through the age groups, all sorts of things.”
Asked if he had been tempted to move in with his club-mate as James Chester, Cameron Stewart and Robbie Brady did when the trio first moved to Hull from Manchester United a few years ago, Hayden initially laughs.
“No, we didn’t do that,” says the midfield player. “We are both strong enough characters that we don’t need to be around each other all the time.
“We can hang around with different people. We have had dinner together a few times but it is not like we are together every day, just because I know him well.
“When you have been playing with someone for so long, rooming together with England, that’s just how it is. We are not a 24/7 married couple. People think we are bound to be together all the time just because we come from the same club but we are strong enough characters to stand on our own feet.”
Hayden is, certainly, someone who knows his own mind. That much became clear when he was courted by both Arsenal and Manchester United as a youngster.
Six years ago, United were undoubtedly the team to be at with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men on a run that would bring three appearances in the Champions League final inside four years.
Arsenal, in contrast, were locked in a trophyless run that would only end in 2014 with, ironically, an FA Cup final triumph against Hull.
Despite that, Hayden never had any hesitation where his future lay. “I was 14 when I joined Arsenal,” recalls the Chelmsford-born loanee.
“I had been at Southend from the age of under-10s. We played Arsenal in a friendly at under-13s and they said they would take me.
“Arsenal were my team growing up because my idol was Patrick Vieira. I always watched his game and studied what he did.
“There was a choice between Manchester United and Arsenal, as United were keen. But, it was an easy decision. I just said, ‘drive me there now!’ as soon as I knew Arsenal were interested. It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“Manchester United were keen but when you are 13 and living in London with your parents, it was a no-brainer.
“It was the right decision, as being at Arsenal is an almighty experience. You have literally got the best of everything. Nothing is barred. We have got the best facilities, top-level coaches, the best technology and, ultimately, one of the best managers in giving young players a chance.
“When me and Chuba were coming through, we had Steve Bould as youth team manager for a year. That says it all really.
“Having that year, we learned so much from him. Then with him moving into the first team, there’s a pathway to the first team. You feel like you’ve got that chance and then it’s up to you to take it.”
Hayden’s first-team chances at the Emirates amount to a couple of Capital One Cup appearances. There would probably have been more but last season was ruined by injury.
Now, though, he has a chance to make a big impression with Hull and, hopefully, force his way into Arsene Wenger’s plans.
“It is a very fine line between the two,” replied Hayden when asked if it was more beneficial to be out playing first-team football or developing at Arsenal alongside world-class players in training.
“I would say it depends on your age. If you are 17 or 18, then it is best to be at Arsenal training with the first team and learning from the best, some of the world’s top players.
“As soon as you hit 19 or 20, that almost becomes second fiddle because you have learned all you can from training sessions.
“That is when you need to learn how to deal with it in a game. That is why I’m happy to have come here.”