How Hector Bellerin changed the way I looked at footballers

How Hector Bellerin changed the way I looked at footballers by Yusuf

When I was younger my favourite footballer at Arsenal was Samir Nasri.

Before he sold his soul for the riches of Manchester City, Nasri started at Arsenal, was one of the most exciting young players in the Premier League, and was even voted French Footballer of the Year. What I loved so much about Nasri was his relatability. Samir Nasri was a diminutive footballer who focused more on his agility and technical quality than his physicality. For a young thirteen year old this was a massive inspiration for me and I often tried to imitate his game as much as I could whenever I had the chance to play. I found the early 2000s Arsenal sides harder to relate to because of the size and power in their profiles, something as a young teenager wasn’t apparent (and still isn’t!) for myself. Nasri being openly Muslim was also a massive part of his lure, but really his style of play was what drew me to him. For me, and I’m sure the case for many, I think what a player does on the pitch is what captures us and plays the biggest role in who we decide are our favourite players.

Hector Bellerin was the first player at Arsenal that completely inspired me for all his actions off the pitch. When Hector first joined Arsenal, I was in Year 11 and remember watching his interview for Arsenal Player alongside Jon Toral. At the time I was more excited to watch Toral play as his attributes seemed to be a mixture of Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas, a combination that makes your mouth water. However, it was Bellerin that slowly became one of my favourite ever Arsenal players.

From the moment he became settled in the squad, and started breaking out of his shell, Bellerin always spoke his mind and openly used his platform to discuss any topic. From the Black Lives Matter movement, abortions, veganism or racism, Hector always spoke his opinion and implored other celebrities to do the same. Not only discussing global social issues, Bellerin was vocal on his passions away from football like fashion, photography and nature even when they were seen by many as unprofessional.

Footballers are often asked to live very structured lives. Training. Home. Training. Match day. If players are interested in other passions it’s to be kept behind closed doors, as any attention that’s not being put on their job is seen as a distraction. Bellerin never conformed to this archetype and discussed on his multiple platforms the importance of having an identity away from being just a footballer, and how valuable self-development and exploring yourself as a person, not only as an athlete, can be.

The truth is many footballers are allowed to express themselves away from football, if those passions conform to masculine ideas of what a man should be interested in. If you want to stream video games for five hours straight or play four hours of golf, that’s completely acceptable as it fits into our expectations of ‘masculine habits’, however if a footballer wants to dress in a more unconventional way to most western men, or models at Paris Fashion Week, it’s seen as unprofessional and disrespectful to your fans. Football has a toxic masculinity issue and struggles when players express themselves in a way that’s judged as ‘feminie’. Many in football deem Bellerin to be unprofessional, but in an industry that still allows Joey Barton to operate at a high level despite an assault charge against him, it’s clear outrage is being pointed in the wrong direction.

Hector has received horrific homophobic abuse simply for his hairstyle or fashion choices and his passions away from the pitch are provided as a reason for his (supposed) failure at Arsenal, rather than footballing reasons like a serious knee injury that effected his mobility or a change in tactics.

Despite this abuse from fans and pundits alike, Bellerin has never changed his stance and is still confidently expressing himself in his truest form. Seeing his development while I was in my late teens to now early twenties always acted as a motivation to me on the importance of standing up for what you believe even in an industry that discourages free thinking. Hector’s opinions on political and social issues largely resonated with me and I found many of my views being recognised on a public platform. Not by a social justice activist or a politician, but by a footballer who played for my team. Even if you didn’t agree with everything Bellerin said, just seeing someone so vocal in what they believe in is still motivational in learning to speak on your beliefs publicly.

Toxic masculinity is still an issue within football and in 2022 we still do not have a single openly gay footballer in the Premier League because of the abuse they will receive from simply being openly different. Whether that will change in the future is yet to be seen, but I like to believe Hector Bellerin at least opened the conversation to show you can still excel as a professional athlete even when who you are doesn’t conform to societal expectations of your profession. It’s okay to enjoy things that aren’t seen as ‘masculine’ and have multiple layers to your identity and it’s okay to share them with other people online.

When you watch truly great players play for your club you feel pride that they are yours, and even though Hector was an elite player at his best, I’ve never felt more proud watching someone at Arsenal even when they weren’t playing. Seeing Hector’s activism made me more interested in reading about veganism, learning about mental health or appreciating nature, none of these qualities I ever thought I would find in being a football fan.

Hector helped me in understanding and seeing footballers as people who have emotions and passions just like everyone else first, and as professional footballers secondary.

Although his time at Arsenal seems to be coming to a natural end, with the player and club seeming to want a divorce, his voice in helping to inspire people to be who they are and to stand up for what they believe in cannot be underestimated. For that and his excellent contributions on the pitch, I will always be grateful that Hector Bellerin played for The Arsenal.

Yusuf Malik

 

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30 Comments

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  1. Beautiful article! I love Bellerin too. He always speaks intelligently and eloquently about any subject he discusses. And he’s such a classy player. Sad to see him leave

  2. 100% right. My son and I have always admired Hector for the reasons you set out in your article. A pretty damned good footballer too. I wish him all the very best wherever he ends up after AFC.

  3. Great article Yusuf, written with head, heart and soul. Bellerin has a lot of haters who get on his back for who he is as much as what he house done on the field. As a footballer he has hit an impasse. Let’s face it, his speed has diminished, his crossing will not improve nor will his tracking back to cover in defence get any better. However he offered Arsenal the type of width which Cedric, Tomyasu or White cannot deliver. As a human being however Bellerin is on another level probably already aware that Yes! there is life behind football.

  4. Its true 99% of pro footballers in fact pro sports people world wide tell you absoulutely nothing in their interviews. They are all fake. To be fair players are advised to have no opinions as opinions are dangerous to the brand. They say they love the club and the fans but in reality they just love the money and the prestige. When their contracts run out they head off usually to some other country.

  5. Yeah, there must be an emotional factor that made Bellerin so eager to return to Spain as soon as possible

    Footballers and other celebrities are humans too, but they should be aware that entertainment industry is full of judgement and criticisms. I’d personally prefer to be a highly paid footballer who’re constantly criticized, than an office worker

  6. A wonderful article and it illustrates what a fine human being and role model as a person Bellerin is for thinking people every where. I have the utmost respect for him as a human.
    However, it needs to be said that on THIS ARSENAL platform, what concerns most of us all the time is football itself(though that last comment does NOT include me). I have always known beyond doubt that being ethical, moral and caring about human lives are FAR more important qualities than loving mere football, passionate though I am about the game.)
    But in common with all other imperfect humans, I write about our team and our players, managers etc on THIS site and far less on matters other than football.

    And with THAT personal imperfection in mind, I regret to say that I have never rated Bellerin at all as a player . I consider him among the very worst of our regular right backs in my sixty plus years as a Gunner and then a “Gooner”. I have always seen how hopeless he is at defending and in any defender that is the MOST severe problem.
    And on THIS site, though not on other non football sites, that is what concerns me and that is my sincere opinion.

    But well written and I MUCH ENJOYED READING YOUR ARTICLE!

    1. ay jon you care about Ozil, well now that is something.

      never wouls of thought it by all the name you call him.

  7. Totally disagree with the author on every front.

    Footballers are not usually equipped to expound on anything beyond football. They’re also in their teens/20s which is an age when people have little experience but an awful lot to say.

    Having a footballer influence young people is really not a good idea.

    They are told to say nothing for the same reason politicians try to avoid answering awkward questions – they don’t want to turn anyone against them who might vote for the politician or support the football club.

    Seeing the likes of Rashford spouting about free school lunches without having to worry about who’d foot the bill – meanwhile his club form dropped and has never recovered, you can understand how the distractions can make a difference in top level sport.

    That’s not to mention how often they are simply just plain wrong. The celeb types and sports people who got behind the BLM movement without ever doing any real research of their own was concerning – had they done that they would have found that the BLM web site was pretty much defunct and was taken over by a bunch of activists who were intent on nothing more than creating division in society, the race issue was just a front so the people supporting that movement were nothing more than what Lenin called “useful idiots”.

    P.S. Before anyone goes jumping up and down in woke mode over the term I quoted, look it up first?

    1. Agree and would add that in this day and age, it’s not difficult or dangerous to say the things he says. Coming out *against* BLM etc as a celebrity would require bravery, because it goes against the grain.

    2. IDNWIC, I need to add some context before disagreeing with your view that people in their teens / twenties, whether footballers or not, are “not usually equipped to expound on anything beyond football”.

      I question what do yolu mean by “equipped”?

      If you mean they have notYET lived, lets say, a long and varied life , then you may have a point.

      But the reason I profoundly disagree with your view that younger people are “not equipped”, is because in a democratic society, in which we are blessed to live, all people are allowed and should be allowed freedom of speech to say as they wish .

      And provided theirhearts and minds are those of good and moral people, it would be wicked and harmful to society to prevent young people saying as they wish.

      I could expend far more and at much greater length , were this not an Arsenal related site. But I thank God your own view will never have any legal backing and I , among what I firmly believe will be the great majority , am extremely relieved at that.

      Think again my wrong thinking fellow GOONER AND DIGEST WHAT I HAVE SAID HERE!

      PS: I write as a natural liberal and passionate life long active supporter of free speech, who undestands how TRUE liberalism – as opposed to the tyranny of WOKEISM – enriches us all.

      Wokeism is deeply illiberal and against free speech and I denounce it.

      1. Who said anything about free speech? Certainly not me.

        They are “not equipped” because:

        – They are not experienced in life.
        – Footballers on the whole are not noted for their intelligence.
        – They live a charmed life without the financial issues most people face.

        I shudder at some of the things I believed passionately when I was in my 20s. And footballers have a lot of influence, rightly or wrongly.

        In terms of “free speech”, for footballers, anything they say reflects on the club they play for, which is one reason they’re trained to zip it and say bland things to the media so in a sense their freedoms are somewhat constrained by being a representative of a club with a highly-visible public profile.

        There’s for and against for everything and one of the downsides of being a highly-paid footballer is that you’re not quite as free to say whatever you wish as the next twenty-something working somewhere out of the public eye.

        But that’s not really the issue I was talking about, the third sentence in my post above was the key point: having a footballer influence people is not a good thing (for the reasons I gave).

        1. IDKWIC, I am bound to say I disagree fundamentally with the notion that any person at all, no matter what his job restrictions may be , is NOT free to give his/her opinions on any matter at all , provided that no filth or hate speech is used.

          I disagree with your generalisation, and about most generalisations in fact, that “footballers are not noted for their intelligence”. I prefer not to judge people by their professions or career and to look always and only at at the INDIVIDUAL in question.
          I also feel that ALL people of all ages and walks of like are free to influence anyone they are able, provided they stick to non hate and non filth speech. That is in small part, WHY I am a liberal. I see you clearly are not one!

          I should point out that even tiny babies who cannot speak, influence some people in some ways, even while being personally unaware that they do so and to judge by age alone is short sighted, wrong and foolish!

          1. A Liberal would not say that free speech excludes “filth or hate speech”. This is a relatively new method of *stifling* free speech because you can attach that label to things you simply disagree with (like many of the words and actions of blm). You’ll note that “filth” is inherently subjective and even “hate speech” has plenty of wiggle room for governmental persecution (and it gets used today in the uk).

            1. DAVI AGAIN I DISAGREE, as hate speech has well defined legal boundaries. Sensible people can EASILY tell what is hateful and what is mere opinion, though I firmly believe the illiberal woke movement chooses to make even mere opinion into what THEY regard, for their own agenda led reasons, as “hate”.
              I denounce and am wary of woke. I regard it as harmful.

              Nor do I accept your view that filth is “subjective” Filth is filth and easily distinguished from non filth by normally intelligent people. Government in Britain is generally liberal, in that it allows free speech and this government has , I am glad to say, resolved firmly to defend free speech, which I applaud.
              IT IS THE TYRANNICAL AND ANTI FREE SPEECH WOKE MOVEMENT WHICH IS THE REAL DANGER TO FREE SPEECH. True liberals understand that society must have boundaries of decency, otherwise anarchy rules. FAKE LIBERALS DO NOT UNDERSTND THIS FACT. True liberals do not believe that ANYTHING goes!

              1. Sorry I just can’t agree that filth is not a subjective term – people have been visited by the police and charged over clear jokes not aimed at anyone. Anyone can find a joke offensive and consider it filth, doesn’t make it so. Maybe you’re right that sensible people wouldn’t see it that way, but some people have an axe to grind and some people are easily offended – when those people have the power to arrest you or cause your arrest, then it doesn’t matter what sensible people think.
                This is why there should be very few limits on speech – things like direct threats and incitement to cause panic. Things that have a direct link to physical violence or danger.
                You may have had this belief for some time, but the idea of filth and hate speech being exceptions is relatively new, and comes from the woke idea that words are violence – for some reason this has gained some acceptance recently.

                The idea of Free speech is not to protect people’s right to say nice things and hold acceptable views, otherwise what is the difference from controlled speech?

                1. Agree Davi. The so-called liberals of today want to shut down free speech to include only whatever they believe.

                  It’s just about as illiberal as you could possibly get to have laws that protect people from hearing things they disagree with.

                  Most things are subjective, as you say, it’s all in the perception of the recipient (and how thin their skin might be – which these days is very thin indeed).

                  “Filth” is an example. Some people use porn, some people consider it to be “filth”. All in the eye of the beholder.

          2. Free speech is always fettered in some way.

            For example BBC employees are not supposed to express political opinions (and yes, I know they do these days but that’s a contentious subject). In fact, people on this site are not supposed to express political views – there’s an example right there.

            Some views impact on the organisation you represent. Look at the case of the Aus rugby player whose religious views don’t allow him to accept gay marriage – he was banned from representing Aus at rugby union because he expressed those views on social media.

            There’s many more examples, more mundane ones abound in all walks of life.

            That’s the real world. There’s no denying it, it just is.

  8. If Bellerin thinks he looks good, then good luck to him. Personally i wouldn’t be seen dead in some of the rags he wears but thats his and my choice. Plus, get your blinking haircut!!!!!!!!🤣

  9. What a great article to read, it refreshes my belief in the human race.
    I’m afraid I can’t divorce the man, Hector Bellerin, from the player at Arsenal, simply because he epitomises what made me start supporting The Arsenal nearly seventy years ago.

    Someone to look up to in the way they conduct themselves, both on and off the pitch.

    Someone who is never afraid to confront others, when they are being challenged or abused.

    Someone who remained loyal, both to the club and themselves, even when time was catching up, along with the horrendous injury that robbed him of his most natural asset – speed.

    I detailed his list of footballing achievements in another article and he most certainly was a very accomplished defender.

    As his time at our club reaches it’s natural conclusion, I will remember him as someone I would have loved to have had a long relaxed evening meal with, talking about his views of the world.

    Good luck in the future Hector and thanks for some wonderful memories.

    Thank you Yusef, you did the man proud!!!!

  10. Disagree with u dude Yusuf. Football is a life. U need to live that life if u want to be a good footballer don’t even mention about being a great footballer.
    I have comment before he was loan to other club. His focus on football is gone. His mind diverted somewhere else.
    That’s ur personal view Yusuf. I love, animal, nature n peace too. But this is football. The moment you step on the pitch. U must be a beast. But ur friend Bellerin has lost that.
    Too bad, such a talent youngster but his heart n mind distracted him from football.
    When time comes to leave, you got to leave. Doesn’t matter how old you are. Unless you comeback 110% with football in your heart n mind. You are always welcome. Till then step aside dude.

  11. Bellerin also put his money where his mouth is; he financially supports the environmental protection initiatives of a lower tier club, from what I know.

  12. Poor old Hector. Clearly a case of damned of you do and damned if you don’t. I hope he moves beyond this pettiness. So what if he didn’t turn out to be better than Dixon or Sagna. Football fans, what do they know. Life goes on.

  13. I knew nothing whatsoever of his off-field hobbies or perceived differences to other footballers,so to be informed of them in such an insightful ,heartfelt yet personable way was a pleasure to read Yusuf, and spoke in volumes not only about Hector but your good self too.
    Cracking read,fella.

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