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Goodnight, sweet prince

After a decade of in London, Arsenal bid farewell to the king of cool

Chelsea v Arsenal - Florida Cup Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Enigmatic. Iconic. Activist. Fashionable. The list goes on and on, but there is just no perfect word to describe the unerringly cool and wholly unique Hector Bellerin. Even the term footballer, his profession, seems limiting for a man of so many passions. Over ten seasons, he blossomed as both a player and a person at the Emirates, becoming not only one the league’s most dynamic defenders at his peak, but one of the sports’ most socially conscious (and fashionable) members as well.

After joining Arsenal’s academy in 2012 from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, it wasn’t long before Hector was thrust into the first team, making his debut at 18 years of age. After a loan spell to Watford in 2013, he rejoined Arsenal and, due to a series of injuries to other players, took advantage of early opportunity and became a stalwart of the first team, appearing 239 times for the club and being on the winning side of three FA Cups.

But all good things must come to an end, and now, Hector’s decorated time in London has come to a close. On Thursday, the final day of the 2022 summer transfer window, Arsenal’s longest tenured player said a final goodbye to the club he called home for a decade as he rejoined his boyhood club Barcelona on a free transfer, penning a heartfelt goodbye to the fans.

It is hard to believe that the fashionable fullback that marauded Arsenal’s right flank with equal parts speed and style for the better part of the last ten years is no longer a Gunner. Few players at Arsenal have upheld the values of the club quite as well as Hector, and few have done as much with their platform as a celebrity and athlete as the civically minded defender.

Hector represented the best of Arsenal both on and off the pitch. It is difficult for celebrities and athletes to get involved in social movements without coming across as preachy or pandering, but Bellerin walked that line deftly. He was humble and earnest in his beliefs, as he was outspoken about many social and environmental issues. His excellent Oxford Commons interview shined a tremendous light on his philanthropy and interest in making the world a better place than he found it.

But Hector also had a mirth and lightness about him that made him approachable and down to earth. His passion for global causes was matched by his passion for fashion, collaborating with design houses and even walking at Paris Fashion Week. Whether or not you appreciated his style, Hector was undeniably himself, embracing fashion and expression like few others. He could always be found hamming it up for the camera, never taking himself too seriously despite being the coolest person in the room at any given point.

Sadly, the writing was on the wall well before a fruitful loan spell at Real Betis last season. Following his brutal ACL tear in 2018, Hector was never quite the same player as he was before he did his knee. His once-blistering pace waned, and he played with more hesitancy. But in fashion that we would find typical of the defender, he used his injury to give rare insight into his recovery process. Following his recovery, he spoke publicly about the mental and physical toll his injury and recovery had, documenting the process on a vulnerable and enlightening Youtube mini-series called The Unseen Journey (which is absolutely worth a watch).

Regardless of how his tenure ended, Hector will always be remembered fondly for how he carried the values of the club and led by example. Hector made us proud and did everything he could to do right by the club, even when he was searching for greener pastures. And now, he has found them.

Good luck in Spain, and from the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Hector.