Originally on Goonersphere
Parameters – or goalposts if we are looking to remain within the footballing theme – rarely move.
Tired cliches and age-old phrases that were written in sandstone tablets many moons ago by the first ever footballing critics and pundits, are still bandied around with abandon by yet more pundits who look to imprint their own prosaic opinions upon impressionable minds.
Well, some players aren’t happy with being bound by unoriginal ideas. Some men who ply their trade on the pitch look to move mountains rather than simply scale them.
Step forward, Hector Bellerin.
Not even the most esteemed visionaries could have foreseen the impact that the young Spaniard would make when he made his first team debut against Borussia Dortmund last season in the Champions League. That match ended in a painful 2-0 defeat and an even harsher lesson doled out to Bellerin. The then 19 year old was given the runaround and by the end of the ninety minutes, the majority were not only wondering whether he was ready for this level – but also if his punishment on the pitch may have ramifications further on in his career.
We needn’t have worried about the young man’s mindset. He evidenced a maturity beyond his years as the absence of Mathieu Debuchy gave him a perfect stage to showcase his broad range of talents. He went on to finish the season as first choice and covered in plaudits.
His pace is well broadcast. Breaking the record in training that fellow speedster Theo Walcott had held was testament to the wings he possessed on his boots. As matches went by we all became privy to the sheer velocity he distributed at will during games. It made some players look almost prone. It was also a valuable weapon which aided another of his talents.
His attacking has been one of our most potent outlets since his inception into the first eleven. Linking up with whoever may be on the right side of midfield – normally Ramsey, but also Chamberlain, Walcott and more recently Joel Campbell – he uses his speed to immediately give his teammate another option but also give opposition defenders a nightmare choice as to who to chase. If the move breaks down, rest assured it won’t just be Alexis who chases back, as Hector simply turns on the rocket fuel and races back to shore up his side of the defence.
Perhaps his most undervalued strength is his incredible stamina. Minute after minute, the blur that is Bellerin rampages down the right side, either carrying the ball or chasing it. Then, if possession changes, he leaves scorch marks on the touchline as he rushes back. Like clockwork, back and forth, back and forth. Like a pendulum, only on nitrous oxide. It boggles the mind how much energy is expended to keep up that ridiculous amount of exertion on a constant basis. He exhibits near superhuman levels of physical fitness.
He still has much to learn, but we can only imagine how good he will be when he does learn the finer nuances of positioning and defence. With such fine tutors as Koscielny and Mertesacker, and the fact he is one of the finest in his position at this stage already – it is unfathomable the level he will be at when the whole package is strung together.
This also creates a problem. Bellerin is 20 years old and ripping up trees. So what of the players of similar ages?
If they aren’t matching up to Bellerin, then are they simply not of the required standard? Is it fair to use Bellerin as a barometer?
Calum Chambers is currently 20 years old. His purchase last season was also his breakthrough season thanks to injury – another parallel he shares with the Boy Wonder Bellerin. So, surely his inept displays this season in comparison to Hector’s are simply not good enough and indicate he is either falling behind in his development or he needs a loan?
What of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? He is currently 22 years old. His pace and bravery still titillate and delight the fanbase but his decision making hasn’t improved and he loses possession with the frequency of an Aston Villa player.
Do Chambers and The Ox not match up and therefore they aren’t of the required standard? When is the right time to use the age-old excuse of their age?
Is age now a moot point?
The difference between Bellerin, Chambers and Chamberlain is game time. Minutes on the pitch.
It cannot be underestimated how invaluable the time spent on the pitch is. Bellerin was given his break by Debuchy being injured for quite some time. The Frenchman before his injury was playing well and no one had any doubts regarding his pedigree. Bellerin was the back up and the natural order was set. The Spaniard though, took his chance with aplomb.
Chambers last season played well in patches, but his mistakes were scrutinised and they also happened in high profile matches. Ultimately though, the run in the side Bellerin had to establish himself was of a longer duration than Chambers had.
Chambers and Chamberlain possess insane amounts of talent and will hopefully go on to have fruitful careers at Arsenal. The one thing they must develop though – the one skill that Bellerin has in spades – is a maturity beyond their time on this earth.
Calum and Alex have time on their side, but are playing catch-up in terms of where they stand compared to our track-star Hector. Bellerin has yet to play a full season, but come May, have no doubt that his star will still be rising. A glittering career awaits.
One thing is for sure – age is just a number.