It’s karaoke time!
“I wanna tell you,
I might as well do,
About a boy who can do anything.
He comes from Barca,
His name is Hector,
Bellerin, Bellerin, Bellerin.”
You’ve probably heard our latest song for a certain young Spanish right back recently. It’s pretty catchy, and of course the player himself is well-deserving of his own song given the season he’s having. It got me thinking though.
When I first heard the lyrics muffled across the crowd, I assumed the start of the second section went along the lines of “He plays for Arsenal” instead of “He comes from Barca” – so why are us Arsenal fans so keen to sing about Bellerin’s roots?
It could of course refer to the fact that he was born and bred in Barcelona, but my immediate thinking took me back to the fact that his pre-Arsenal career was spent exclusively at FC Barcelona.
Of course, pre-Arsenal careers that are spent exclusively at FC Barcelona are not just well-known to us, but they are more than a little raw.
What is to stop Hector Bellerin ‘doing a Fabregas’ and running off back to Barcelona at the first sign that they want him to plug a Dani Alves shaped hole in their back four?
|Name||Cesc Fabregas||Hector Bellerin|
|D.O.B (Age)||04 May 1987 (27)||19 March 1995 (20)|
|Born||Arenys de Mar||Barcelona|
|Age joined Barcelona||10||8|
|Age joined Arsenal||16||16|
Clearly both players have close attachment to Barcelona, having been trained there and also having grown up within the Barcelona province of Catalonia.
Fabregas notoriously idolised Pep Guardiola, taking his shirt number wherever he could and returning to play under him when he made the much-discussed move from London back to Spain.
Likewise, Bellerin has spoken about how tough it was to move clubs, saying “I’d been at Barcelona all my life so it was very difficult.”
There are some differences though.
Fabregas made his debut at 16 in the League Cup, his Premier League debut a year later and was a first team regular within two years of joining the club. Bellerin on the other hand has had to bide his time, waiting two years to make his debut and then having a spell out on loan at Watford, before finally making a name for himself in his fourth full season at the club.
Of course, their relationships with Barcelona are more different than they may appear at first glance.
The Barcelona attraction
Barcelona are widely regarded to have the best academy in the world, with 43 alumni playing in the top five European leagues. Thirteen of those are at Barcelona itself, including the golden generation of Messi (27), Iniesta (30), Xavi (35), Busquets (26), Pique (28) and Pedro (27).
However, the more recent graduates have come through in a much more patchy fashion – they simply don’t have the same groups of players moving up through the ranks together which proved such strong glue.
The other seven players still plying their trade at the Catalan club are more of a mixed bag – a goalkeeper who has never made a senior appearance, two 19-year-old forwards who still play for the B side, a right back who is widely expected to also leave the club in the summer, and just three players with any pretensions to the first team – Bartra, Rafinha and Roberto.
The other striking thing is that of the 13 players still at Barca, nine are midfielders or attackers – a paltry three are defenders, and one of those is set to leave this summer.
Bellerin was a winger in his time at La Masia, but his defensive nous has all been coached in North London.
It is a transition he seems to have embraced, and Arsene Wenger has form in this area, with Lauren openly admitting that he and the boss used to argue all the time about where he should play. In Arsene we trust, and hopefully Bellerin does too.
Where Fabregas grew up worshipping the likes of Guardiola, Puyol and Xavi, coming through the ranks at La Masia alongside Messi, Pedro and Pique, Bellerin may have had role models at the club but there is a notable difference in the number of players of his age who have made it through to the first team.
Unlike Fabregas, there can be no real arguments of a man wanting to play alongside his childhood friends and teammates.
It’s easy to underestimate the impact of Guardiola on Cesc’s move to the Nou Camp – the then-Barca manager was rumoured to have visited the Spain World Cup squad in 2010 in an effort to convince Fabregas to make the move. After finally getting his man, Guardiola lasted just a year as Barcelona’s manager before moving on, and Fabregas didn’t take very long after that to start making noises about being unhappy.
For all his pedigree, Luis Enrique did not come through the Barcelona youth ranks as Guardiola did – indeed, he made 157 appearances for bitter rivals Real Madrid!
An Alves shaped hole
The concern is that Bellerin’s style of football is dangerously similar to the archetypal Barcelona full back, with as much to offer going forward as defensively. With Dani Alves out of contract this summer and apparently little faith in potential replacement Martin Montoya, the Spanish club will be in the market for a right sided defender. One name is on everybody’s lips.
The hopeis that Bellerin’s prowess at full back is inextricably linked to the decision – at Arsenal – to convert him from a winger to a defender. He has also had to work a lot harder to get himself into his position in the Arsenal first team than Fabregas ever had to, he has not yet played anywhere near enough games to have completed his journey or, indeed, to have given anything back, and he is playing alongside better players than Fabregas ever had the opportunity to share a dressing room with.
The player himself seems to recognise the role Arsenal have played in his development, saying “If I had stayed in Barcelona, I don’t know if I would have got to the top, the elite.”
In 2010, Arsenal were still finding their way towards the light at the end of the austerity tunnel, and while selling players was not a requirement, nor was purchasing additional reinforcements an option. The team was somewhat stagnating and a number of key players left.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015. Arsenal have made marquee signings in successive summers, as well as some mid-priced additions alongside them. The team are notably on the up, and hopes are high for a strong and sustained title challenge in 2015-16.
Bellerin signed his most recent contract in July 2013, due to expire in 2017, but a new contract is on the table, likely to extend that date to the summer of 2019 with a fairly hefty salary increase to boot.
Assuming he signs it (pretty please, Hector?) it’s hard to see the new steely Arsenal being prepared to give in to the sort of pressure the entire Barcelona community exerted in an effort to move Fabregas across the sea.
The “he has Barca DNA” line of persuasion still saw the Fabregas move take two years to come to fruition, so our Spanish speedster is surely going nowhere fast.
Moreover, Bellerin himself seems to have his head screwed on and recognise that he owes much of his success to Arsenal.
In a Barcelona cohort overflowing with talented attacking midfielders and wingers, making a breakthrough will always be difficult. Arsenal saw the potential in him to be a leader in his field by moving him to full back.
Let’s hope that in a few years’ time he’s still leading that field from the green, green grass at the Emirates.
If he is, he might just surpass all our expectations.