Hector Bellerin: How saying no to Barcelona paid off for Bellerin - and Arsenal

He could have been the next local hero at the Nou Camp, but is instead looking to help Arsenal retain the FA Cup

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The Independent Football

While Arsenal play the FA Cup final, Barcelona will be preparing to meet Athletic Bilbao later in the day for the Copa del Rey. Next Saturday, it is the Champions League final, when they hope to complete a treble.

Without question, Barcelona are the biggest and most successful club in the world right now, one that most players would love the chance to play for.

And yet Arsenal’s right-back on Saturday, Hector Bellerin, turned that chance down when he walked out of La Masia – Barcelona’s famous academy – four years ago.

He could have been the next local hero at the Nou Camp, following Carles Puyol and Xavi, but he decided to try his luck at Arsenal. Now, having turned 20, he has flourished into an incisive, brave right-back, Arsenal’s reliable first choice. Bellerin is delighted that he made the move and insistent he is not dreaming of a return.

“If I stayed there, I don’t know what I would have been,” said Bellerin, a confident talker who seems wholly settled in London four years on. “Some of my [ex-Barcelona] team-mates play second division now. So I am here, playing Premier League and Champions League. Over there I wouldn’t know where I would have been. So I’m really happy I made that step.”

Bellerin – and his best friend Jon Toral – have made the same step that Cesc Fabregas made long before them. With Fabregas there was always a worry that he wanted to return, and so he did, in the same summer Bellerin and Toral arrived at Arsenal.

Bellerin was clear, though, that the prospect of a return to Barcelona did not interest him. “I think that’s a wrong thought, because if I wanted to be at Barcelona, I would have stayed there,” he said.

“My challenge was to come to England and I came here with everything. I came here to stay and to cement my place in the first team. If I wanted to have played for Barcelona in the future, I would have just stayed there.”

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Bellerin in action for Arsenal

 

Bellerin and Toral were part of an excellent Barcelona Under-16 team, and Arsenal tried to sign both, along with the precocious young midfielder Sergi Samper. Barcelona offered the three new deals but Bellerin and Toral decided to try their luck in England.

“I was about to sign an agreement [with Barcelona] and we were in talks when Arsenal told me they were interested in me,” Bellerin said. “We spoke about everything and I told the people at Barcelona I didn’t want to sign a contract and I wanted to come over here.

“I’m the kind of person who likes new challenges and for me it was a new challenge. The success of Fabregas as well, that he grew up here more than in Barcelona, was something that attracted me a lot as well. There were so many factors.”

 

Bellerin had been playing as a right-winger for Barcelona but Arsenal wanted him as a right-back and that is where he has developed ever since. Last season he went on loan to Watford but this year he has broken through. Mathieu Debuchy has been unlucky with ankle and shoulder  injuries and now Bellerin is first choice.

Of the Cup final, Bellerin added: “If they had told me at the beginning of the season it would turn out like this I wouldn’t have believed it.”

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