Chaka Simbeye recently spoke at length with former Arsenal youngster, Jon Toral, and the midfielder talked moving to Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, his surgeries, and being Hector Bellerin’s translator.
Toral now plays for Hull City after leaving Arsenal in the summer of 2017. Arriving in 2011 with Hector Bellerin, his career was derailed by a congenital knee defect that required numerous surgeries.
The link for the podcast is below, as is a transcript of what Toral had to say in relation to Arsenal.
Interviewer: How did you decide to move to Arsenal?
Jon Toral: Well, I was 16 at the time. I’d spent eight years at Barcelona and a scout at the Nike Premier Cup in Manchester, they saw me at Arsenal and then just contacted me to see if I wanted to come over and continue my career at Arsenal. It’s something that as a kid with my mum English and stuff I always watched a lot of Premier League football and that’s a dream just to make it to the Premier League and I saw that as a chance to doing that.
Interviewer: How does Arsene Wenger speak to youngsters? How does he really give you confidence?
For me, personally, it was a tough start at Arsenal. I started with a couple of knee injuries that didn’t let me enjoy my football as much as I would have liked to. But Arsene’s just a great mentor to have. He’s very close to the youngsters. He follows the 23s. Every time we played at home he was there. He sees a lot of the 18s as well on the training ground. He knows everyone, so yeah, it’s a great mentor to have.
Interviewer: How was it mentally to have four surgeries between the ages of 16 and 20?
Yeah it was, well it was 16 to 18. But yeah, those two years were really tough. My first one was when I was still playing for Barcelona. Already signed for Arsenal. So to start at a new club with a knee injury and then having to have another surgery later on in the same knee and then knowing that the other knee needs surgery as well was a bit tough mentally because I was moving to a new country, a new club, and all you want to do is do well and impress. But I guess that’s just made me the player I am today as well, which made me feel, know how it feels and you’re not even able to train when all your teammates are training.
So it’s a tough time in my career but I guess I learned a lot from that time.
Interviewer: How are you able, not just to recover mentally, but entrusting your body and things like that?
Well, it’s all about a good recovery, having people around you like family, friends, girlfriend, whoever it may be to help you out, to keep you happy and motivated when you go to training and you know you’re not going to be able to train with your teammates. But you’re going to have to do the gym work and everything well so you recover well. So it’s all about that.
Interviewer: And was it frustrating it being a genetic issue rather than…?
Well, at least at the end they could tell what it was and as soon as you know what it is you can look for solutions and that’s how it happened. It happened to be a genetic issue with the meniscus. Now it’s sorted, it’s been like, what, six years now no injury. Injury-free with my knees. So, touch wood, that continues that way and I’m quite comfortable with them now.
Interviewer: When you first joined, how was it being Hector Bellerin’s translator?
*laughs* Hector Bellerin’s translator? Well, I don’t think I was that. We came at the same time. We were good mates back then. We’re really good mates now. And it was about helping us out like, he helped me as much as I helped him in the early stages of our living in England, in a different country, living together in digs and doing everything almost together.
So yeah, we’d become really like family.