For Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral, life in England is good. The Spanish duo are making big strides forward in their nascent careers, they can both speak the language fluently and they’ve even grown accustomed to the climate. But like many teenagers, there is something very specific that they crave from home.
“Oh, I really miss my mum’s cooking!” Toral exclaims with a grin. “She’s not even Spanish but it’s not the same without it!”
“Yeah I agree, I really miss that,” Bellerin adds. “People talk badly about the weather over here, but it really isn’t that bad. It’s a bit cold when you’re training in the morning, but once you get warmed up you’re alright. But I love my mum’s food. I could do with that!”
A home-cooked dinner aside, the pair are more than happy with their decision?to swap Barcelona for Arsenal in the summer of 2011. Since then they’ve become integral members of a hugely promising group of young players making waves both domestically and in Europe under Terry Burton and Steve Gatting.
We caught up with Hector and Jon at London Colney to find out more about how they have settled into life in England.
How did your respective moves to Arsenal come about?
Hector Bellerin: It was really weird because I was about to sign a new contract with Barcelona when my agent received a call from Arsenal to say they were interested in me. I came here and saw everything and the day I was meant to sign for Barcelona I said I didn’t want to. They were obviously a bit angry, but it wasn’t something I wanted as I wasn’t comfortable there. I like the Premier League and Arsenal as a club and it was my chance so I wanted to take it. I’m really happy to be here.
Jon Toral: It was quite similar for me. The opportunity came, and as my mum is English I have always watched the Premier League and wanted to come here. I had the chance and decided to take it.
It made everything easier knowing that Hector was coming. We live together, we are always together and you have got someone that is living the same situation as youJon Toral
How difficult was it to decide to swap Spain for England as a teenager?
HB: I knew Jon had signed for Arsenal already and it meant I would not be coming
by myself. That makes things easier. But obviously it’s hard because you’re leaving your family, your friends and your life. But sometimes it’s good to have a change. It’s a chance to grow as a person. The train only comes once, and you need to take it.
JT: It made everything easier knowing that Hector was coming. We live together, we are always together and you have got someone that is living the same situation as you. It is always good to have each other for support.
Did the success Cesc Fabregas had at the Club help you decide?
JT: It was an influence because he came over and ended up as the captain and a great player for Arsenal.
HB: To see that the move you’re goingto make has been successful for someone else is a motivation.
Jon, your Mum is English and you knew the language. How important was that in making the move?
JT: It was a big help. My mum has spoken to me in English ever since I was a kid, so it meant I understood the language when I came over here. It was really useful
What about you Hector, could you speak much English when you arrived?
HB: I had school-level English, but actually it wasn’t hard to learn more. It was only at the start when people would speak to me that I understood nothing of it!
Jon, how bad was Hector’s English then? Be honest!
JT: It really wasn’t that bad. Honestly, it was quite good. There were no really funny
mistakes I can think of.
HB: No, no let’s not talk about this!
Tell us about the digs you moved into once you came over here.
JT: We’re still there - it’s with a really nice family in Enfield. It’s a very nice place, and we’re not the first players to have lived there. I think Armand Traore was there before us, and Iggy [Ignasi Miquel] and Francis Coquelin were there as well.
Hector, you’ve been on the bench for the first team in the Capital One Cup. What was that like?
HB: It was amazing, because I was not?expecting that at all this season. I was at Reading, and it was unbelievable. The game, the atmosphere and the way all the players felt after the game was incredible. I have to say, the players really made me feel one of them despite the fact I’m quite young. I remember in the dressing room afterwards that everyone was so happy. We were watching the goals on television, and no one could really believe it! I will never forget that night.
Jon, does seeing the likes of Hector in the squad give you?hope that first-team football could be close for you too?
JT: Yes, definitely. Look at Serge [Gnabry] – he has played in the Premier League and the Champions League, Tommy [Eisfeld] has played in the Capital One Cup and was excellent. Seeing those players make it into the first team makes you think your chance will come one day.
We normally room together. Jon used to sleepwalk a bit, but not anymore, but lately he has been sleep talking in English. It shows he is really adapting!Hector Bellerin
Do you feel you have learnt a lot since you arrived here?
HB: I have always said that when you play at Barcelona, you learn to play the Barcelona way. But when you are here, you learn to play football in general. That’s a big help for us. If you just stay at Barcelona, there’s probably going to be a day when
you have to move to another club if you don’t get the chance ?to make it into their first team. Then you might not know what to do. But here at Arsenal they prepare you to be a professional from a young age. That will help us a lot in our careers.
Jon, you’ve had some injury problems...
JT: Yes, it’s been a tough start to my Arsenal career. I had a lateral meniscus injury. I came from Barcelona injured already so my first two or three months were spent recovering. Then last February I had to have surgery on the same knee but for a different problem.?It’s been difficult but I’m back playing again and enjoying my football.
You beat Bilbao 4-2 in the last game of the NextGen group stage to progress to the knockout stages. How pleased were you with that display?
HB: That gave us a boost, because we were a bit stuck in the competition.?JT: Yeah, we hadn’t scored since the very first game of the group so it was great. They were a very good team, and to beat them 4-2 has helped us a lot.
What have you enjoyed most about the NextGen Series?
HB: I think the travelling with the other players. You see them every day but you’re in the training ground. But on the trips?in the NextGen Series you have dinner together, you are in hotel rooms and you have a lot of fun.
Do you two room together?
HB: Yes, we normally room together... and Jon sleep talks. He used to sleepwalk a bit, but not anymore, but lately he has been sleep talking in English. It shows he is really adapting!
How much of a highlight was playing at San Mames against Bilbao?
JT: It was amazing - there were 10,000 fans there and it was a great pitch. Having lived in Spain for so many years, that pitch means a lot. We call it the cathedral of football in Spain.?HB: That stadium has a lot of history?for us, so to play there was such a big experience. They are changing stadiums, so that was our last chance to play there and it was amazing.
Loads of [Spanish players] are a bit jealous because a lot of them would like to do this move over to EnglandHector Bellerin
Were there any real low points in NextGen? Obviously Hector, you were sent off at Olympiacos...
HB: That was difficult because it was the first time as a professional that I’d got a red card. But this competition is made to learn from, and you’re not going to make the same mistake again. The team and coaches were very supportive. I’m fine now - I’m over it!
You’re both in the Spain Under-19 squad. What is that like?
JT: We’re playing with guys who are playing first-team football in Spain, in the Champions League and Europa League, so the standard is very high.
What do those guys say about the fact you came to England?
JT: They respect the fact that we came over here.?
HB: Loads of them are a bit jealous because a lot of them would like to do this move over to England. There are many people who actually prefer it to Spanish football.
JT: They are always asking questions about England and where we live, what we do when we’re not training, about training itself. They’re all quite interested, and we just tell them how much we are enjoying it here. It’s been fantastic.