By Walter Broeckx
A bit of news that went a bit under the radar (well for me it was but that could have been because of other things on my mind and so initially missing it) is the fact that we signed a player.
Signed, sealed and delivered and he is ours as the old song goes (more or less). No it is no new player. It is Hector Bellerin.
But he is not just a player that has signed a new contract. No for me it is a statement. And in a way a moment that can make me say: told you so. Just as Tony was right in the end with Coquelin as he has been singing his praise from the start, I have been doing the same from the first second I saw Bellerin at Arsenal.
I don’t know why I did it at the time but when the news that he and Jon Toral were joining Arsenal at youth level a few years ago I went on the internet and became a youtube scout. Because there were a few clips with youth matches from Barcelona and with the focus on Bellerin more in particular in those matches.
What I saw in those clips made me hungry. Hungry for more of Hector Bellerin. I just had the feeling that he could turn into a special player. A great player. And I was happy that he had decided to leave Spain and Barcelona and put his future in the hands of Arsenal and Arsène. We know that any young player in the hands of Wenger has a good chance to make it. But of course in the end it is down to the player and his attitude to decide if he really will make it.
So almost 2 years ago when we played at Dortmund I went to the Youth league match that was played in the afternoon before the big boys. I saw Hector play in the flesh and my expectation became bigger and bigger. Yes, this was a talent that we would love to see in the first team.
Little did either of us know that only 12 months later he would be in the match with the big boys in the same city, Dortmund. He struggled in that match but so did the whole team. But he showed great character and didn’t let that little set back get under his skin too much.
You have to be lucky at times when you are at the start of your career. And the unfortunates events and injuries of Mathieu Debuchy became the lucky time for Hector. Without the injuries to Debuchy we wouldn’t have seen Bellerin probably up to now.
Bellerin got his chance and he took it with both hands (or should I say feet?). He became better and better and better and now nobody looks surprised if Wenger picks Bellerin for the right back spot even if Debuchy is fit.
Bellerin is fast, can defend, can attack, can score a few goals and give good crosses. Bellerin scored two goals in his opening season in 28 matches he was involved. Sagna played 40 matches in his first season and scored one goal. The fact that in his younger years he also played in every role on the right flank and also as a striker will have contributed to his goal scoring actions.
So I wasn’t bothered at all with Sagna going away. In fact I was hoping that we would buy nobody and just give Bellerin his chance. Wenger went out to buy Debuchy an older and experienced player. I could live with that as I thought it was just a way of giving Hector the chance to grow slowly in to his role. Don’t throw him in the deep from the first moment seems to be what Wenger was thinking. Injuries to Debuchy made it different as we all know now.
And now with Bellerin committing his long term future to Arsenal (with in mind the thought that contracts are no longer what they used to be…) But Hector seems to be a young man with not only great feet but also with a good head on his shoulders. He knows that he can even grow at Arsenal. I have always compared him with Danni Alves from Barcelona. One of the best and most attacking right backs of modern football history. Bellerin can become as good if not even become better.
I think Hector also wants to reward Wenger for the trust he has received from the manager. Maybe Wenger didn’t think he was completely ready at the start of the season but he got his chance to impress and took it. And then injuries did the rest and gave him the chance to step up.
On Arsenal.com manager Arsène Wenger has his say on Hector and Wenger said: “His progress has been huge because if you had asked me that question last year, exactly on the same day, I would not have guaranteed you that Bellerin would be a regular player in the club by the end of the season, but he managed to do it,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
Arsène Wenger also said the following: “He’s a very serious, mature boy. I met him when he was 15… and I could see straight away that there was something special on the hunger side, on the desire and maturity side. He was a very mature boy very early.
“I expect him to continue to develop [in the new season],” added Wenger. “I expect him to confirm all the good aspects of his game that he has shown, and to accept that he has a tough challenge with Debuchy.
“Mathieu is a guy who has always shown unbelievable mental strength and has top quality. He’s a regular player in the French national team so Hector cannot rest. He has a big battle to face.
“I will use Calum Chambers more as a central defender but he can also help out at right back as well.”
And this shows for me that Wenger is as usual a few steps in front of the media. And so he knew the potential, trusted on Bellerin to come in to the team at one stage. But even for Wenger it was a surprise to see just how good he already was at the highest level.
I expected Hector to be a sensational right back and to be good enough. But still the last hurdle is sometimes the most difficult one but he took it well and improved his game in each and every match.
Great to see another youngster making it in to the first team and making a loyalty claim in favour if Arsenal.
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Anniversary of the day:
22 July 2006: The Emirates Stadium opened with the Dennis Bergkamp testimonial, Dennis’ father kicked off the match. Dennis had played 423 games for Arsenal, and was part of both Arsène Wenger’s two Doubles and the Unbeaten Season.
All the pre-seasons across the Wenger Years are on the Arsenal History Society site