The road between Barcelona and Arsenal has become a well-trodden path in recent years. While the summer saw Cesc Fabregas going one way, it also saw two promising young Spaniards move in the opposite direction. Hector Bellerin was one of those players and the 16 year-old had no doubts about where he wanted to be as soon as he discovered Arsenal’s interest.
“It is obvious that Barcelona is a big and famous club, but Arsenal is too,” he says. “Everyone has to make their own choice for their future and I believe that my prospects of development as a player would be better at Arsenal. To stay at Barcelona was an option, but they do not give the opportunities to young players like those available at Arsenal. Barcelona tends to play older, established experienced players. Mr Wenger is not afraid to give young players an opportunity to play if they are good enough and that was a big encouragement for me and a real challenge.”
If there was any difficulty in deciding to join the Gunners, it was made easier by the fact Barcelona colleague, Jon Toral, had already agreed to sign as an Arsenal player. “That was important,” he explains. “The fact that Jon had agreed to join Arsenal was a convincing factor. Leaving friends and family would be difficult, but I knew that we could support each other and that is the way it has been. We both live in digs with Sean McDermott and Donna, our landlady, makes us feel at home.
"I have to be honest and say that I obviously miss my friends and family, but I would not say I have felt homesick or sad and that is very much because I have no time alone and we are always doing things. If I were alone here that may have been different. Apart from Jon and Sean being good friends, the rest of the squad are fantastic and there are also plenty of Spanish speakers here, including Emi Martinez and Ignasi Miquel who are good friends.”
Hector joined the Gunners as a winger. Indeed, he scored in his first game in the red and white – but it is at right-back, and with his defending, that he has been just as impressive this season. The youngster is blessed with good technique and pace, but reads the game so well too.
“The fact I was a winger for 12 years has helped me understand what my opponents are thinking, how they want to play and so I am able to use that when I defend to stop them,” he reasons. “The fact that I have had encouragement on the defensive side of my game gives me confidence because I never played in that position before I joined Arsenal and I am learning all the time. I am very lucky to have Steve Bould as my coach because he was a defender and passes on ideas and guidance and that has helped me develop so much of my defensive game.”
The youngster’s English is now impeccable and he insists that the improvement in this area has reflected his progress on the pitch. “I was always a grade A student when it came to English at school,” he reveals. “But when I first came I found it difficult to understand everything. I tried hard to improve because at first in training I could not understand everything the coach or the other lads were saying. But, as my language improved I felt more comfortable and I think that’s accelerated my development too.”
What has also helped the youngster settle in is the style of football and ethos at the Club. “I knew that the Arsenal first team played a passing style of football similar to Barcelona, but I did not expect it to be the same at youth level,” he notes.
“I was surprised by the technical ability of all the young players and the fact that we play the same way as the first team. Also, everything is so professionally run at Arsenal. It is very well organised. “There are differences to Barcelona in that we do more gym work here, but that is because football in England is more physical and faster. The training drills are similar and so I’ve had no problem settling in,” he concludes.
Three teams you played for before Arsenal?
Jesus-Maria Badalona (school), FC Barcelona School, FC Barcelona
Best piece of advice?
Don’t try anything, just do it!
Best moment in football before joining Arsenal?
Being called up by Spain and winning the Nike Premier Cup
Team supported as a boy?
Pretended to be in playground?
Other good sports at school?
Athletics and basketball
Favourite kids’ TV show?
Oliver & Benji
Merxe Lopez (at Jesus-Maria)
Most influential in career?
Victor Sanchez, who is a Barcelona coach and now a friend
Clubs interested in signing you before Arsenal?
Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United, Aston Villa
Favourite item of clothing?
Favourite car in the world?
Current Arsenal role model?
Best thing about being at Academy?
The opportunities and the football education
Three words to describe you as a player?
Speed, dribble and generous
Three words to describe you as a person?
Generous, funny and happy
Most talented team-mate?
Something we may not know about you?
I love to go to the beach in the summer