Height: 5ft 11in
By Lambros Lambrou
Jon Toral may have been a Barcelona player, but he knew from a very young age that his future was in the Premier League. “Barcelona is a massive club, but they do not tend to give young players a chance in the first team,” he says. “I saw Cesc Fabregas moving to Arsenal and other players from Spain going to clubs like Liverpool and it was clear that if I were to progress as a player I would most likely need to come to England. I enjoy the game here and the Premier League is the best in the world in my opinion. When Arsenal expressed an interest in me it was a dream come true.”
The tall midfielder believes that the Club first spotted him when in England, and at Old Trafford of all places. “I was playing for Barcelona in the Nike Cup a couple of years ago,” he recalls. “We won the tournament, beating the Mexican team Pachuca 3-1 in the final. I had a good tournament and I think that they watched me since then.”
The dream move did not get off to the best of starts. “I had already agreed to join Arsenal and I was playing for Barcelona in a game last May,” he states. “My studs got caught in the ground and I went down, damaging the meniscus of my right knee. I had to have surgery and was out for a while – they say you don’t fully recover for eight months.”
The enforced rest has come at an inopportune time for the youngster, who celebrated his 17th birthday at the start of February. “I have been playing well in the Under-18s and had featured in the Reserves which was a great experience for me, especially playing with many first-team footballers,” he said.
“Hopefully I can get back soon and play regularly again for the youth team and we can win the league, which I know we are capable of. I want to start playing regularly for the Reserves too. The competition is tougher, you play against and with more senior players. It is a great learning experience.”
The young Gunner has been a regular on the scoresheet and his trademark surging runs from midfield have been a good source of goals. It’s not just timing, but clever play too as typified by the goal he scored against Portsmouth. “I enjoyed that and so did Hector Bellerin,” he remembers. “We broke from our own box with Serge Gnabry, he passed to Hector on the right wing and then made the run forward. When I got to the edge of the area, I stepped backwards a few paces to make room for myself. Hector passed to me and I fired the ball into the top right corner. It is a move that we have been taught at Barcelona since a young age and Hector said that he knew I would be there, he did not have to look up.”
Aside from providing assists on the pitch, Hector Bellerin has also been a big help off it. He says: “We were together at Barcelona since we were young boys and we joined Arsenal together. We have helped each other settle in well. We live in the same digs in Enfield with Donna and John, who have made us feel very welcome. They previously had Ignasi Miquel as a lodger so they are used to the Spanish way! I think I have also been helped by the fact that my mum is English and I have cousins in London. I am enjoying the football on the pitch and my life away from it, I do not get too homesick – especially as my family come over and I get to go to Spain when I travel with the national team.”
Jon is hoping to play for Spain in the UEFA U-17 Championship, but England are in the same qualifying group. “That will be tough,” he admits. “Especially as so many of my Arsenal colleagues may be playing against us. We are all looking forward to it and it adds to the banter among the players. Arsenal comes first for us all, but we can’t wait to play each other in a couple of months’ time. We shall see...”.
Teams you played for before Arsenal?
Joan Rebull (my school team), Santes Creus, FC Barcelona
Best piece of advice?
“The difficult things, you do them – the impossible things, you try them”
Best football moment before joining Arsenal?
Winning the Manchester United Premier Cup with Barcelona
Pretended to be in the playground?
Other sports that you’re good at?
Favourite kids’ TV programme while growing up?
A Spanish one called Oliver i Benji
Who was your favourite teacher at school?
Vicenta Miralles (at IES Domenech i Montaner)
Who’s been the most influential on your career so far?
Albert Puig at Barcelona
Other clubs interested before joining Arsenal?
Man City and Chelsea
Favourite item of clothing?
Current Arsenal role model?
Best thing about being part of the Academy?
The opportunity to become a football player
Three words to describe you as a player…
Intelligent, hardworking, generous
Three words to describe you as a person...
Generous, happy, funny
Most talented team-mate?
Something not many people know?
I like playing tennis