The Bellerín Question
After a few weeks’ worth of serious rumblings and some well documented historic interest, last night it was finally confirmed that PSG and Arsenal are currently in negotiations over the transfer of Héctor Bellerín. In a piece in The Athletic, Ornstein confirmed that Héctor is their number one target for the right full back position following the exit of Thomas Meunier; Arsenal’s preference is that he stays, but they are willing to sell if the price is right.
This transfer is likely to split opinion amongst Arsenal fans, as the 25 year old Spaniard is widely regarded as a fan favourite. I personally love the guy, but I think there are some serious questions to be answered about Bellerín as a player.
When Bellerín first exploded on to the scene in 14/15, replacing an injured Mathieu Debuchy who had dislocated his shoulder, he was immediately seen as the long term replacement for Bacary Sagna we were looking for - the width he provided, his confidence and his ability to glide past defenders with ease got us all excited, and his ‘academy’ status meant the fans immediately took to him. His love and passion for the club is plain to see to this day, and he involves himself in worthy and unique causes off the pitch too - much is made of his interest in fashion, but he also pledged to plant trees for every time Arsenal won a game in Project Restart, produces a podcast to show people the other side of top athletes, and made a series of vlogs to bring the fans along with his recent ACL injury. Many see him as future captain material, myself included. It is widely known that he joined the club in 2011 from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, and his 9 years at the club make him one of the longest serving First Team squad members alongside Martinez and Ozil. There’s no doubt about it - he’s been a great servant to the club, helping us to 3 FA cup wins in his time here.
But the Bellerín question is a difficult one, and despite the love we may have for the man, we all know what matters is what happens on the pitch. He’s a frustrating player at times - once a flying young full back who excited with his pace but rarely delivered the right ball in the final third, that maturity was always promised. Indeed, in October 2015, he had created the joint-most chances in Europe so far that season. Since then, he has struggled with form, injuries and an inconsistent team around him and despite some signs of ‘the old Héctor’ coming back, his frustrating tendency to cut inside and play it safe, sidewards or behind him, has turned many Arsenal fans cold. With the increased importance of full-backs in the modern game, there is even more pressure than ever to deliver in that position, and at 25, some people appear to have given up hope that he’ll ever fulfil his clear potential.
Of course, confidence post-injuries etc. plays a huge role in that - something we can see potentially returning in the build up to Aubameyang’s cup winning goal. Having being around for such a long time, Bellerín is fast approaching 250 appearances for the club, and despite that, he has never really felt like he’s hit top gear, and the injuries may have given him more of a ceiling of development. Arsenal must weigh up whether they are willing to take the risk - if Hector explodes at another club, I’m sure many fans will be especially disappointed that he didn’t spend his peak years here, potentially captaining us. ACL injuries are nasty - some top physios say it can take up to 2 years to recover fully. Others say you never fully recover - but if he does, and well, we may live to regret it. In an exclusive interview with Football.London in May, Bellerín said he plans to be what Mikel Arteta was for him in his playing days to the next generation. An important figure in the dressing room, no doubt.
Ultimately, despite the romance and despite what he might mean to fans, he’s an asset, and one that may play a role in funding moves for targets for more priority positions in the team this summer, such as Houssem Aouar from Lyon and Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid. This is a good time to sell as well, with Hector 3 years out from his deal expiring - Arsenal have often been criticised for selling poorly, or allowing players to run down their contacts - see Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez et al. You can also see how Paris might appeal to Hector with his sartorial interests, and PSG are hugely ambitious in the Champion’s League, something he no doubt wants to win, and regularly win the league title. Playing with Neymar and Mbappe is a far cry from the Sanogos and Gervinhos that Hector has had to cut his teeth with over the years, and it could be seen as just reward for his service.
But there is hope. I think if we signed Héctor now, and he played like he did in the Charity Shield, we’d say he was a 60 or 70 million pound player. With the Spanish connection with Arteta, and having played together, there is more chance than ever that Hector may kick on under Mikel - if he can have an increased understanding with Pepe and our midfield improves so he’s not crowded out on the flanks so often, it may help, but Arteta’s reliance on the 3-4-3 may be Héctor’s downfall. He is not really a RWB any more, nor is he an RCB. One of the factors to consider is who replaces Héctor, and this might be the most compelling to facilitate his departure. Ainsley’s capability to carry out the technical side of Arteta’s game with his agility and passing range, quick feet and ability to wriggle out of tight spaces makes him the prime candidate for that RWB role. Gabriel’s arrival, weirdly, may spell the end for Héctor in a 3-4-3. Tierney pushes forward into the LWB, Ainsley swaps side, and Héctor moves out. That said, Arteta will want to be flexible, so may want to retain Héctor for certain game plans. We also have Cedric to plug holes - who I think is actually a much better player than many give him credit for.
In terms of my personal opinion, I am really on the fence. I love Héctor, but if I’m thinking with my head as opposed to my heart, I think if we can get £35m or so for him, we should do it. There’s nothing to say he could never return, and perhaps we could insert a first refusal clause or something similar. He’s a wonderful player on his day, but we have players in his position, and if he doesn’t kick on in the next 12 or so months, Arteta doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d persevere with him if he felt he was holding the team back on the pitch, probably replacing him - and his value may decrease.
As always, we’ll have to wait and see. But with Arteta and Edu at the helm and Raul out the door, I trust that the right decision will be made for all parteys. Get it?
See you Monday for another podcast, and look out for Bradley’s blog later on in the week. Have a good one folks!