This story first appeared in the October 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
"I think people will be a little bit surprised maybe, because nobody knows him very well"
The Arsenal manager had just completed the signing of Lucas Perez, bolstering his forward line with a striker who scored 17 goals in a Deportivo La Coruna side that finished 15th in La Liga last season.
Arsenal’s new no 9 made history in the process, becoming only the second player to find the net in seven successive league matches for Depor. Opponents included Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Barcelona. Brazil legend Bebeto, whose record Lucas matched, penned a public letter in light of the achievement.
"That’s something I’ll carry with me for my whole life," says Lucas, a boyhood Depor fan. Before that run of form, though, not many outside Spain will have been too familiar with Lucas – whose career has taken him from the lower leagues in his home country to Ukraine and back to his hometown club, via a two-year spell with PAOK in Greece. There’s no doubt that his route to Arsenal has been unconventional but the striker sees that as a positive.
"It helped me to figure out what I wanted from life, to mature and to grow as a person and as a footballer," he tells us. After two years at Depor, Lucas admits it was difficult to leave. But as the striker – who turned 28 on September 10 – tells Arsenal Media: "In life you have to seize your opportunity... and this is a massive chance for me, for my family and for my career."
THE BIG INTERVIEW
Lucas, congratulations on signing for Arsenal – how does it feel?
Thanks very much, first of all. I’m delighted. It’s a massive step in my career to come to a club with the history and quality that Arsenal have and be able to play in competitions like the Premier League and the Champions League. I’m very proud and happy to be here.
When did you first hear about the club’s interest and what was your reaction?
Well, it was through my agent and through some other players who spoke very highly of the club to me. I was really happy and flattered when I heard about Arsenal’s interest. I was very hopeful to get the chance to come here.
What do you know about Arsenal – have you watched the team much on TV? Absolutely, I know the club. The Premier League is very popular in Spain and I always try to watch matches whenever I can. Arsenal have top-quality players and play some great football so they were one of the teams I watched most.
What is it about Arsenal that you would say attracts you most?
They’re a great side, they’re fighting for titles, they play in Europe and they’re just a massive club. They have some fantastic players and that attracts all footballers.
Which Arsenal players have you admired most down the years and why?
Well, obviously everyone knows about Arsenal’s legendary players such as Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. I really admired Jose Reyes, who’s a fellow Spaniard. Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira too. That was a wonderful time for Arsenal and everyone knows all those players. People know all about them in Spain and that history of having legends at the club is part of the reason Arsenal are so popular.
We have a number of Spanish players here like Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla – do you know any of them personally?
I’ve seen them play and things but I didn’t know them personally because I only started playing in La Liga two years ago, by which time they’d already come here so I never got the chance to meet them in person.
We saw Hector greeting you when you arrived at the training ground on your first day...
That’s right, Hector said hello and so did Santi – they were both at the training ground and were very welcoming to me.
"It’s a challenge for me to come here and show what I’m about, but I have real confidence in my ability and I’m sure I can do well here"
How excited are you about playing in the Premier League?
Massively so. I’m really excited. I want to show what I’m about, get stuck into playing and perform well.
Obviously you’ve not played in the Premier League yet, but how do you think it compares with La Liga?
Well, I think the Premier League is more intense and the matches are much more end to end – there is more counter-attacking. The Spanish league is more tactical and so the play isn’t quite as fast as the Premier League.
Can you tell us a bit about your playing style and what the Arsenal fans can expect?
I think I’m a pacey player. I like to link up and combine with my team-mates, playing one-twos to work a shot. I don’t want to put myself in a box – I hope that the Arsenal fans can see for themselves and enjoy watching me. You’ve played on the left and up front in your career.
What is your preferred position?
I’ve played as a striker for most of my career but I can adapt to any of the four positions across the front line. I prefer playing as a striker but I have no problem playing anywhere up front.
How hard was it to leave Deportivo? We know you’re a lifelong fan and you once said when you kiss the Deportivo badge, it’s like kissing your home. How hard was it?
Yeah, it was tough. I’ve spent my whole life away from La Coruna – I’ve lived in countries like Ukraine and Greece and I’ve been away from home for most of my life. Having the chance to play for Deportivo, the club I’ve always loved in the city where my family and friends live, was amazing – it was very emotional.
It was very difficult for me to leave, but in life you have to seize your opportunity and to come to Arsenal and play in these competitions is a massive opportunity for me, for my family and for my career. I hope to make the most of it.
"He’s uncomfortable to play against. He’s a good striker. I think he has everything a striker needs. He’s someone you can play well with. He doesn’t just run around and wait for someone to give him a pass to score a goal. He works a lot for the team as well and he creates chances"
You had a fantastic season at Deportivo last season, scoring 17 goals. What do you put this down to?
Well, I was determined to show what I could do. I had the chance to go home and play in a big league for Deportivo, the team I’ve always loved. My family and friends lived there, so that gave me huge motivation to perform well. I had never had the chance to play in the Spanish league before and I was finally able to – I’d played in Ukraine and Greece but I think it was the motivation I had that enabled me to have a great season.
You also equalled Bebeto’s record at Deportivo by scoring in seven consecutive games. What did that mean to you?
It’s something I’ll carry with me for my whole life. It means I’ll go down in the history of Deportivo La Coruna. I grew up watching Deportivo, they were the local team. Obviously, here in London I’m sure lots of kids idolise their favourite Arsenal players - their dream is to play for Arsenal and mine was to play for Deportivo.
Is it true that Bebeto wrote a letter to you afterwards?
Yes, he did – I was so grateful. It was an amazing feeling to have a sporting legend write to you and say nice things about you. You’ve had a fascinating career, starting in Spain, then off to the Ukraine, then to Greece and back to Spain.
Can you tell us a bit about it?
I started playing in La Coruna, my hometown. When I saw that there weren’t really the opportunities there to get better and become a professional footballer, a chance came up at Deportivo Alaves, in Vitoria, in the Basque Country.
I had a year and a half there until the club got into financial difficulty and decided they didn’t want to fund my career any more – my schooling, accommodation and food. They decided to cut things off with me and I went back home and played for Ordenes, a third division side from a town outside La Coruna. I spent six months there and it was then that the opportunity came up for me to join the youth academy at Atletico Madrid.
I had two years there but by the second year there was no way for me to keep developing – that was when I got the call from Rayo Vallecano. During my two years there I alternated between the first and second teams. At that point, a few of us Spaniards got the chance to go and play in Ukraine – I went along with two other Spaniards. It was a chance to play in Europe and looked a huge opportunity for us. The three of us weighed it up and eventually decided to go for it.
One thing led to another and I spent three years of my life in Ukraine... it helped me to figure out what I wanted from life, to mature and to grow as a person and as a footballer. I realised that what I really wanted to do was to go to the Spanish league, the Premier League or another big league and play for a big team like Arsenal.
My dream was to play in the Premier League or La Liga. At that point, an opportunity came up in Greece. I played in Greece for a year and then I got the chance to return home and join Deportivo La Coruna. I couldn’t ask for any more than that – I was returning to the Spanish league, going back home with all my family and friends.
I’ll never forget the day I made my debut back in Spain, seeing my family there in the stadium I’d been visiting since I was four years old. My career continued there and last season things started going really well for me – that was when Arsenal started taking note. My career has been on an upward curve from the moment I left for Ukraine right up until today. I feel really happy and I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have. I want to prove the kind of player I am here at a big club.
How tough was it in Ukraine, miles away from family and friends?
Yeah, it was really tough because of the distance, the culture, the food... you have to adapt to the climate too. It was very difficult. It was a good experience because leaving Spain to go to Ukraine taught me a lot about life and helped me realise what I want. It really helped me on a personal level but it was very hard – there were some tough times.
Do you feel it toughened you up, though – made you a better person and player? Absolutely. I think it was a really important part of my life.
Does the fact that you’ve played in other countries and cultures show that you’re someone who is able to adapt to any circumstances, that you like a challenge?
Yeah, I want to improve as a player and play with the best. I want to play in the top competitions and Arsenal has given me the chance to play alongside the best players in the best competitions. It’s a challenge for me to come here and show what I’m about, but I have real confidence in my ability and I’m sure I can do well here.
And lastly, Lucas, have you got a message for the fans?
I’d like to say hello to the Arsenal fans and thank them for all their support already. This is going to be a great season for us all and I hope Arsenal will give you plenty to celebrate.