It’s safe to say that David Raya has been on quite the journey to make it to Emirates Stadium.
Just nine years ago, our latest summer signing was playing in the fifth tier of English football, but last season saw him get called up to the Spanish World Cup squad.
If his story is unfamiliar to you, then here are 12 things you need to know about our new recruit:
Frustrated futsal player
David owes his start as a goalkeeper to being pressured between the posts by his older brother, but admits he loved the freedom of being outfield. “My brother always put me in a goal,” he said. “With my mates, I always played outfield. I enjoyed playing further up the pitch and I think that’s why I’m comfortable on the ball. Next to my house, there were always young guys playing on the futsal pitch. I always played outfield in those games.”
David grew up in Palleja in north-east Spain, about 20 miles from Barcelona. Despite that, he grew up in a family of Real Madrid supporters, which meant that his idol growing up was Spanish legend Iker Casillas. However, he also cites Manchester United keepers Edwin van der Sar and Fabian Barthez as other players he also looked up to.
Dodging the desk job
David first arrived in England as a 16-year-old in 2011 after his goalkeeping coach at his local club Cornella tipped off Blackburn Rovers about his abilities, and he impressed on a four-day trial, and later had another four-week stint before signing in July 2012. Had that move not worked out, he was pursuing a career in administration and human resources.
Starting at Southport
In the 2014/15 season, he joined Southport for three months in the fifth tier of English football. He came to prominence in his 24th and final appearance for the club when he made a string of saves to nearly knock Championship side Derby County out of the FA Cup, before a 93rd-minute penalty finally broke his resolve.
After continuing to work his way through Blackburn’s academy and eventually making it to the first-team, Raya would lose just six of his first 64 league games for the Lancashire club. That form made a huge difference as the Ewood Park club earned promotion from League One in May 2018 with 96 points.
David will have a familiar face to meet when he reports to London Colney in our goalkeeping coach Inaki Cana, who moved from Brentford to us in December 2019 following Mikel Arteta’s appointment. It was Inaki who helped persuade Brentford to move for David the previous summer.
"He helped me loads,” David has previously said. "He's a completely different character on the pitch, he's very hardworking, very tough, and I think every goalkeeper who's worked from him will tell you the same.”
Whilst he was at Blackburn, David embarked on the usual training method of using footgolf to improve his long kicking. Working alongside goalkeeping coach Steven Drench, he would weekly attempt to finesse his distribution on the fairways. It must’ve worked as David completed the most long passes out of all the other shot-stoppers last term, with 42 per cent finding a teammate.
David made it to the Premier League by helping Brentford to promotion in 2020/21, ensuring he has played in four of the English pyramid’s top five leagues. His top-flight debut was a dream one, as he kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win at our expense on the opening night of the season. To mark the occasion, he got the date of the game tattooed on his neck to celebrate clawing his way up the leagues.
David quickly caught the eye in the Premier League. After Brentford drew 3-3 with Liverpool in September 2021, just a month into their top-flight stay, Jurgen Klopp reserved special praise for the Spanish stopper: "The goalkeeper could wear the number 10 shirt,” the Reds boss said. “He has sent several incredible balls, exactly what you should do when you play against us."
Poignantly, David made his Spain debut in a friendly against Albania in March 2022 at Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium, located seven miles from Palleja. It wasn’t meant to be that way though, but a late positive Covid test for Brighton’s Robert Sanchez pave the way for David to earn his first cap in front of his family and friends.
Doing it the hard way
He has since been a member of Spain’s triumphant UEFA Nations League and 2022 World Cup squads - something made all the more remarkable by the fact he had never received a cap at youth level. He also became the first Brentford goalkeeper to win an international cap.
Number one’s no 1
Last season saw David come out on top in a number of statistics. No goalkeeper faced more shots in the Premier League, and David made the most saves out of all the top-flight’s custodians, averaging 4.1 per game. He also had the best save success rate of 77 per cent, and xG stats indicate he prevented six more goals than he was expected to concede.
He also claimed the second-most crosses as he dominated his area, and also played his part when his team were in possession as he took more touches than all the other shot-stoppers last term.
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