Hector Bellerin has established himself as one of the finest right-backs in the Premier League across 239 appearances for Arsenal.
In fact, such is Bellerin’s level of association with the Gunners and England’s top-flight that it’s easy to forget that the 26-year-old actually launched his career in the youth ranks at Barcelona.
The famous La Masia system in Catalonia has produced some of the greatest players in football history from Lionel Messi to Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets to Andres Iniesta.
Bellerin’s early days at Barcelona
And although Bellerin might never have made the breakthrough at Camp Nou, his early grounding with the Blaugrana has certainly contributed to his bountiful career in the Premier League.
Speaking to The High Performance Podcast, Bellerin opened up about those formative years with Barcelona and explained the hectic schedule that helped to kindle his love for the beautiful game.
Bellerin recalled: “I feel that my real sense of independence came from the fact that since I was eight years old, I used to go to school at 8:00 o’clock in the morning, finish at 5:00 PM, get in a taxi that will drive me to Barcelona for like an hour, train for hour and a half, and then get back home at like 10:30 PM or 11:00 PM.
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Forging a career in football
“And then when I go home, I used to have dinner with my parents and my sister for half an hour. And then I had to go to sleep to wake up the next morning.
“So really throughout the whole day I was by myself. So that’s where I truly feel that my independence kind of was forged since a really young age.
“And also have to say, even though that my family was always around I was a kid that always used to be in the street. Like in Spain the lights go off really late, at 10:00 o’clock, and I was always in the street playing football with friends, and that’s always been my nature.
“So even coming to London at 16 and leaving my family and my friends and my coach and everyone was like: ‘oh, Hector that must have been so hard’. I was loving it.”
Forgotten La Masia gems
So, you certainly can’t fault Bellerin’s work ethic during his Barca spell and make no mistake that the 26-year-old isn’t alone in having launched a successful career under similar circumstances.
While, yes, we could count through the aforementioned Messi, Iniesta and so forth, we’re all aware of their early days in Catalonia and instead want to focus on the forgotten La Masia souls like Bellerin.
As such, in dedication to Bellerin using Barca as his springboard to success elsewhere, we’ve picked 13 players that you probably don’t remember launched their career in the red and blue – check them out:
1. Mauro Icardi
Yup, this happened. We’re flying out the traps with Icardi’s oft-forgotten time at Barca, playing for their youth ranks between 2008 and 2011 before moving on to Sampdoria, Inter Milan and PSG.
2. Giovani dos Santos
A ‘streets will never forget’ gem of the 2010 World Cup who never quite reached their full potential, Dos Santos’ 38 appearances for Barca are easy to forgot more than a decade down the line.
3. Adama Traoré
Between spells with Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Traore – who is representing Spain at Euro 2020 – broke into the pro game alongside Messi in Catalonia.
4. Luis Garcia
Long before he was scoring ghost goals in Champions League semi-finals, Garcia was trying to get his big break in the Barcelona first-team, but only ever made one appearance for the Blaugrana.
5. Pepe Reina
Uh huh, seriously and the craziest part is that Reina even had hair. Madness.
6. Álex Grimaldo
Now a regular face in the Benfecia set up and with three Primeira Liga titles to his name, Grimaldo hasn’t looked back since leaving Camp Nou in 2016 without a single first-team appearance.
7. Mikel Arteta
Yup, not only is Bellerin a forgotten gem of La Masia but so is his manager. Arteta spent half a decade in Barca’s youth ranks and is considered one of football’s greatest ever uncapped players.
8. Oriol Romeu
It’s easy to forget Romeu’s brief Chelsea spell, never mind his early days at Barcelona, but the ever-reliable midfielder is now part of the Premier League furniture after six years with Southampton.
9. André Onana
Call us naive, but this one really caught us out. If you believe the transfer rumour mill, then Onana could well be linking up with Bellerin at Arsenal on the back of his superb Ajax performances.
10. Takefusa Kubo
Yup, that’s right, Kubo was actually flying the flag for Barcelona long before he crossed El Clasico battle-lines and donned a Real Madrid jersey. He should probably keep an eye out for pig’s heads…
11. Jordi Gomez
Another player who screams: the streets will never forget. Gomez laid the foundations for scoring a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League for Wigan Athletic with a single senior outing for Barcelona.
12. Keita Baldé
With 33 caps for Senegal and spells with Inter Milan, Lazio and AS Monaco under his belt, Baldé has made the most of his football journey since waving goodbye to Barca’s youth set-up.
Before he was shining at Euro 2016 and securing an ill-fated move to Manchester City, Nolito was trying to force his way into Pep Guardiola’s Barca side, making five appearances and scoring once.
Success stories like Bellerin
Go on, be honest, how many of those players had you forgotten ever turned out for Barcelona? For us, Icardi and Kubo will always endure as some of the more eyebrow-raising names.
But it really goes to show that even when La Masia isn’t pumping out Busquets, Messi, Xavi and other Barca legends that it’s still setting up top-level players to make a living in the beautiful game.
With all those taxi drives and rapid-fire dinners, that’s exactly what Bellerin managed to achieve and it says everything that never having made a senior Barca appearance is no slight on his career at all.
Rather, Bellerin is the perfect example of forging one’s own path and it just so happens that the rain and drizzle of London made for a far better journey than the sand and sun of Barcelona.
I guess there doesn’t have to be sunshine and rainbows for it to be all sunshine and rainbows.