To celebrate Hector Bellerin’s 20th birthday, we pulled a classic interview with the Spanish right back from our archives. This piece first appeared in the Southampton programme ahead of the Capital One Cup clash in September.
Firstly Hector, talk us through the experience of making your full debut against Borussia Dortmund…
It was a hard debut. It was a very difficult game for us, the team didn't perform how we expected to and it was a hard place for me to make my debut but I'm happy because it's a dream come true. It's what I've always wanted to do – to make my debut in the Champions League. But at the same time, I was disappointed about the result so I have mixed feelings about the night.
When did you find out you were playing?
I found out that afternoon. I knew there was a chance during the week because of Mathieu's injury and then Calum had tonsillitis. But the boss told me I was playing a few hours before the game so I knew I had to be ready. I was so happy after the boss told me I was starting and it was an amazing feeling. I'm so happy they gave me the chance.
Did any of the senior players give you advice?
They've always been really helpful. I've been with them since pre-season and they've been great, especially the more experienced players because they know how to treat young players and I need to say thanks to them because they have welcomed me and made me feel part of the group. Fitness coach Shad Forsythe is from Germany and he gave me some good advice on the players I was going to come up against. The boss, Steve Bould and all the German players were really good too because they've played Dortmund before and they know the players I was going to come against. I had a good chat with Tomas Rosicky as well so that was really helpful and it gave me a lot confidence.
Could you wish for a better captain in fellow Spaniard Mikel Arteta?
I've got a really good relationship with him, he's helped me from day one. He's a really professional player and he takes care of the young lads. I'm happy to play alongside someone like him and the rest of the players make it really easy for you to settle in.
Did it feel strange travelling to Dortmund while the under-19s were there as well? You were with them last year of course…
I thought about that in the warm up. I remember where we were sitting in the stadium last year so I looked up and saw a load of red tracksuits. I was sitting there one year ago and now I was on the pitch getting ready to play. It showed that being a young player here means you always get a chance if you work hard enough. It was a message to them as well that everyone at the club needs to work really hard if they want to reach that level.
It's been a positive start to the season for you.You were part of the pre-season trip to New York, you played in the Emirates Cup and then of course made your first start. You must be pretty pleased with the way things are going…
Yeah I'm delighted because I'm getting my chances, I've been training with the first team since the beginning of the season so obviously the only thing I can say is thanks to the players and the coaches. They are giving me the chance and have faith in me so that's what I'm going to give back. I'm looking forward to playing more games and I'm really happy with the way this season has gone so far.
The boss has been very complimentary of your attacking qualities, is the defensive part of your game the area you're looking to improve?
Yeah definitely. I started at Barcelona as a winger – that's where I've been playing my whole life. People that watch me play know I like to go forward but I'm a defender now and I need to concentrate more on my defensive abilities. It's something that you can get with experience and get with training. I need to find the right balance but I'm happy with where I am. I need to concentrate more but it will come.
You recently broke Theo's sprint record. Talk us through that...
It happened without anyone really noticing. We had a 40 metre speed test and when I finished the conditioning coach came to me and said I broke the club record. Theo was walking by and I said: "Theo, you've got competition this year". It was something I'd been working on with Mark Armitage, my conditioning coach with the under-21s. I worked on the power in my legs so it was nice to see the work I'd been doing has given me more pace. We worked on the physical side of my game as well so I'm happy but I'm sure Theo is going to come back faster when he returns from his injury so I've got to be on my toes. I wasn't really expecting it because I was just racing Chambo because he was in front of me. But we're footballers not sprinters so I'm not going to take it too seriously.
You made your debut in the Capital One Cup against West Brom last year. What are your memories from that night?
It was a great experience to make my professional debut with the club so it was a moment I will never forget. I came on as a central midfielder and I'd never played there before so it was a big challenge. It was brilliant for all the youngsters to get a chance and it motivated me to get some more minutes under my belt.
Your great friend Jon Toral is on loan at Brentford. Have you spoken to him at all and asked how he is getting on?
We came here together and we've been together since. It doesn't matter wherever we go, we're always going to be great friends. He played against Fulham and he's been getting on in the closing stages of games; he got an assist two weeks ago so he's really happy there. He's playing first-team football, he's playing at a good level. I'm sure he's going to get more minutes and he's going to show what he can do. It's important for him to stay injury free after all the bad injuries he's had. I'm really looking forward to seeing him shine in the Championship.
Pleggy [Julio Pleguezuelo] is also making good progress at the Arsenal academy this year – there's a real Spanish flavour at the club now...
Pleggy is a good young lad and he's very professional. He's a very good centre back who's comfortable on the ball and he's aggressive as well which is a hard quality to find sometimes. I'm glad he's here and he's working his way up in a similar way that me and Jon did and of course Cesc Fabregas did as well.
Moving on to another Spanish speaker, Alexis Sanchez. You must know a lot about him from watching him play for Barcelona, what's he like to play against in training?
I've always followed Barcelona's games and everyone knew what a good player he is. He doesn't speak English yet so he is always with the Spanish players, he's so good to watch on the pitch. He's scored goals and given assists so it's really exciting to see him play. He's only showed glimpses of what he can do so far, I think there's more to come from him. He needs a few more games to settle into the team and he's going provide more entertainment as well.
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