We all love Hector Bellerin, right? I mean, he’s a fantastic defender - he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s probably the best right-back in the world right now? Maybe? Anyway, even if he’s not, he will be soon, because he’s only 21.
Bellerin, as we all know, started his footballing education at La Masia, which, a lot of times, is Spanish for “I’m going to horribly overvalue this player because he trained at a famous academy”. All snark aside, though, Bellerin is, in fact, a very good player. He was at Barcelona for eight years, and in 2011 moved to Arsenal to continue his development.
It took him a couple years to break into Wenger’s senior side, and when he did, at first, it was...rocky. His first game was the 2-0 loss against Dortmund in 2014, in which he looked, to be generous, completely out of his depth. He then mediocred his way through the season, having another stinker against Stoke in December, in which he was substituted at half time.
Since then, though, it’s been a very different story - Bellerin’s grown a bit, both physically and in his footballing intelligence, and he is now the kind of player that is coveted by almost any manager with half a brain.
Speaking of which, Pep Guardiola made a full-court press to land Bellerin this past summer; it obviously wasn’t successful, but the reason(s) why might come as a pleasant surprise in this day and age.
Guardiola reached out to Bellerin’s people and basically said “money’s no object, you should come to City”, and, yes, played that super-annoying “Barca DNA” card. Bellerin, though, felt a deep sense of loyalty to Arsene Wenger for not jettisoning him after that initial rough stretch of games, which is rare in this day and age, but more surprisingly for a 21 year old, Bellerin did his homework a bit:
Bellerín considered how a number of former Arsenal players had fared since their departures. He thought about Clichy, Sagna and Nasri – together with Cesc Fàbregas and Alex Song. Has the grass been greener for the first three at City? Did Fàbregas’s dream return to Barcelona really work out? Song also went to Camp Nou, and he did not enjoy regular football.
In an era where players move for paychecks all the time, it was refreshing to see a kid stay at Arsenal on “only” £115K/week when he probably could have easily doubled that or more at City. I mean, don’t get me wrong - if his development continues at this rate, he’ll make that money with his next contract, wherever it may be. But, it’s awesome, and it speaks well of Arsene and Arsenal, that at this point in the young man’s career, he chose to stay where he feels appreciated, and not only in the bank-balance sense, but in the “hey we really like this guy and feel like he’s key to our future” sense.
Wenger Former Arsenal head of coaching Terry Burton (ED. NOTE: I misattributed this quote originally) had this to say about Bellerin:
“Am I surprised that he turned down more money from City to stay at Arsenal? In the general climate, yes. But in Héctor’s case, no. He’s an intelligent player and he understands that if he continues to be the best right-back in the Premier League, Arsenal will reward him again in the next contract. He is sensible enough to realise that he’s on fantastic wages for a 21-year-old and further rewards will come with continued success.”
So I guess that whole “Barca DNA” thing is a bit overrated after all?