You’ve got to hand it to Arsenal - there is never a dull moment at the North London club. Despite the relative lack of transfer activity (Gabriel Martinelli aside), the summer has had it’s fair share of drama. Between the good (the adidas kits and the Edu appointment), the bad (the Aaron Ramsey fiasco) and the ugly (Arsenal’s approach to the rest of their transfer business), there has been plenty to talk about. Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of “bad” and “ugly” has overshadowed what little “good” there has been.
Today, the refusal of Laurent Koscielny to join Arsenal on their pre-season American tour kept the needle firmly planted somewhere between “bad” and “ugly,” as the Gunners’ longest-tenured player decided to take a self-imposed sabbatical as he looks to force his departure from the Emirates, furthering the embarrassment that has been the 2019 calendar year for the Gunners.
With this latest bit of drama to come out of the Emirates is the sobering revelation that, with Koscielny’s dust-up, four of Unai Emery’s original five captain’s chosen before the start of last season (Aaron Ramsey, Petr Cech, Mesut Ozil, Granit Xhaka, and Koscielny) have either left the club or fallen out of favor with the manager.
That Granit Xhaka, for all of his well-publicized deficiencies, remains the only unsettled captain seems comedic, it’s also alarming. Arsenal are a mere month away from the beginning of the Premier League season, and the captaincy is now shrouded in confusion. If there’s one thing Arsenal need (besides, well, a bunch of much-needed transfers), it’s a leader that the team and fans can get behind; someone who has been with the club in the past and can continue to be its future; someone who exhibits the best of what the club is all about.
That player is Héctor Bellerín.
Over the past several years, few players at the club have grown quite like Bellerín has. Not only has he become one of Europe’s most coveted right backs, he has turned into one of the club’s most prominent players both on and off the pitch. Between his fashion and his social activism, Bellerín has become an excellent ambassador for the club. So what exactly makes the Spanish-born defender deserving of the team’s captaincy over another player?
Reason 1: Tenure
Captaincy is typically reserved for one of the team’s veterans, a guy who has been through thick and thin with the club year in and year out. Despite being only 24 years old, the 2019/2020 Premier League season will mark Bellerín’s 6th season with the first team and his 9th with the club, making him the 5th most tenured member of Arsenal’s roster.
Of those four others, only Emi Martinez, who has been on loan practically since he joined the first team, was with Arsenal’s academy, which Bellerín joined from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy in 2011. Two of the four are Ozil and Koscielny, whose chances of being captains next season are as likely as mine or yours at this point. The lone remaining player in that group is Nacho Monreal, who honestly isn’t a bad candidate either, but whose future at the club seems undecided as of yet.
Héctor Bellerín has been a stalwart in the club since the 2015-2016 season when he was the sole Arsenal representative on the PFA Team of the Year. That season cemented the Spanish defender as Arsenal’s starting right back, and he has featured in no less than 30 matches for the Gunners each season since, minus the injury-shortened 18/19 season. If you’re the type of person who values longevity above all other qualifiers, then it’s hard to argue against Bellerin.
Reason 2: Prominence
While Bellerín’s star has risen tremendously over the past several years on the pitch, you’d be hard pressed to find a player on the roster whose star has risen more off of it. Héctor has quickly become one of Arsenal’s most recognizable players, and the club is better for it.
As a player, Bellerín has become one of the Premier League’s best attacking right backs, contributing equally to Arsenal’s offense and defense, utilizing his blistering pace to get wide for a cross before tracking back to make up for an inevitable Granit Xhaka error or to cover for Arsenal’s underwhelming center backs. While suitors have come calling, the defender has stayed committed to Arsenal, with his contract running through the 2022 season.
As a person, Héctor has emerged as one of soccer’s most “woke” (that’s “socially conscious” for those of you over the age of 30) celebrities. Between his highly publicized conversion to veganism, his heavy involvement in the world of fashion, and his outspoken social activism, Bellerín has used his platform as an athlete to draw attention to issues far beyond the pitch.
Héctor, much to the chagrin of the vociferous “stick to sports” crowd, has never shied away from controversial topics either, including Alabama’s recent abortion laws, the dairy industry, and racism, all while shedding light on many other causes big and small. His unabashed vocalness has made Bellerín the focus of many human interest pieces, too:
I sat down with @matthewsyed to talk about the importance for athletes to embrace being different, inspiring kids and using our profiles to raise awareness for causes. https://t.co/M2N9Db2CDW— Héctor Bellerín (@HectorBellerin) September 8, 2018
Reason 3: Coolness
Pop Quiz time: Which soccer player was recently labeled “Football’s most stylish player” by Vogue? There is only one correct answer:
“I’m living my life the way I want to live it, and not the way people think I should” https://t.co/jWMwooRUpi— British Vogue (@BritishVogue) March 10, 2019
Let’s face it. Héctor Bellerín is the coolest player on Arsenal’s roster (sorry Auba and Laca), and undoubtedly one of the coolest athletes in the world.
It is hard to put into words what makes Héctor so cool, but one of the quotes from the absolutely excellent article from Vice about the defender says it best:
But to look at Héctor Bellerín as a footballer is to fundamentally misunderstand him. It is like judging a motorbike on its ability to flip pancakes, or a dog on its ability to put on gloves. Seeing Héctor Bellerín as a footballer – top-to-toe Puma training kit, slaloming through flat little warm-up cones, softly heading the ball to Rob Holding – is to misunderstand Bellerín on a level that is close to wilful. Héctor Bellerín isn’t a footballer. He’s a pure, unadulterated, crystalline vibe.
Everything about Héctor is effortlessly cool. There is a reason he has featured in every Arsenal kit release advert in recent years, after all, and it’s not because of his sales acumen. Heccy B is young, hip, and could absolutely steal your girl, but is chill enough not to. A simple glance through Hector’s instagram will reveal a man who oozes confidence and style. A recent example:
Athletes who spend the equivalent of an average median household income on a shopping trip are a dime a dozen, but for Héctor, fashion genuinely appears be an extension of who he is, as he walked during London Fashion Week while rehabbing his torn ACL last month. In a recent interview on Arsenal’s website, Bellerín shed some light on why he is particularly passionate about fashion, citing his family’s roots in the industry, beginning with his grandma’s fashion factory.
While this all may seem like one long love letter to Arsenal’s reigning right back, the fact remains that Arsenal is a team in need of many things: identity, direction, and leadership, to start. While The first two may be hard to solve in the immediate future, the third one is not.
Captaincy may not mean what it once was, but it is still important in the grand scheme of a team’s identity. Naming a captain is not just about picking a leader on the pitch - it is about finding someone who represents the club’s very best, personally and professionally. By that standard, if there’s someone who deserves a chance to shepherd Arsenal on the field next season, it should be Héctor Bellerín.
If you’re somehow still not convinced, I’ll let the man himself remind you of how he really feels: