If you were to fill a speedboat with heavily-greased cheetahs and shove it into the path of an avalanche, it still wouldn’t be as fast as Theo Walcott. Yet Héctor Bellerín is faster.
On its own, ‘fast’ probably doesn’t mean an awful lot. Ryan Babel was fast, but during his time at Liverpool he made all the impact of an angry swan trapped in a bouncy castle. Fortunately for Héctor Bellerín, running really, really quickly is just one of the things he happens to be very good at.
And it’s this collection of talents that has helped the 20-year-old Spaniard not just break into the Arsenal first team, but to build a fairly robust case for being this season’s most effective young player.
The perfect balance
He’s played every Premier League minute for Arsenal so far this season, making more than a slender contribution to the best defensive record in the division. And perhaps that is the most remarkable thing – not that an exciting, speedy young full-back has caught the eye, but that he’s managed to do so within more-than-occasional waving distance of his own penalty box.
That’s not to say Bellerín won’t take every possible opportunity to fly down the wing like Ryan Giggs chasing a bus filled with his relatives’ wives. Against Watford, all Nathan Aké ever saw of him was a stiff breeze and a rising sense of panic. In Arsenal’s win against Stoke he divided his time between bombing forward and keeping a watchful eye on Xherdan Shaqiri’s magical little thighs. And in the 3-0 win against Manchester United he struck the perfect balance between driving forward, while shackling Memphis Depay so effectively the Dutch winger had the look of a man who’d accidentally pooed in a crowded Jacuzzi.
It’s reached the point where listing Bellerín’s achievements is an exhausting process. Never mind the fact that he’s keeping £12 million French international Mathieu Debuchy out of the team (resulting in some minor Gallic grumbling) he’s also shown the kind of development in just two years that makes Kieran Gibbs seem destined for a long, remorseful career at West Brom.
Not quite Jesus…
Amongst all this, what his manager probably appreciates most is how Bellerín helps dampen down the demands for Wenger to spend (well, a bit). Every time a player as talented and productive as Bellerín can land into the first team for next to nothing (and, Francis Coquelin aside, it happens increasingly less regularly at The Emirates) Arsène Wenger is all the more inclined to blow a triumphant ‘framboise’ in the general direction of unhappy supporters. (Maybe Arsenal fans won’t be too quick to thank young Héctor for that one.)
Of course, not wishing to lob a pickled egg into the paella, there is the slightest danger that we’ve all dropped our pants a bit too soon for this young man. Although he has nullified some first rate wingers this season, Bellerín may still have to prove he’s the kind of defender on which a title challenge can rest. Simply Google a clip of Philippe Coutinho twisting him apart like an old baguette to remind yourself that he is not quite Jesus in lime green boots.
But the future appears to be nothing but bright for Bellerín. Already Spanish pundits are touting him as the brightest prospect in the under 21s, contrasting his youthful energy with the increasingly grizzled approach of Atlético Madrid’s Juanfran, Spain’s current right back. (Of course, Chelsea’s César Azpilicueta and Real Madrid’s Daniel Carvajal would most likely toss their sombrero cordobés into that particular argument.)
He’s Gunner be special
Whatever his international future, Bellerín’s present is very much the subject of deserving media froth. Grab any stranger by the lapels and with enough shaking he’ll probably be able to tell you that no one has created more clear chances in the Premier League this season than the Spaniard. Jab a thumb into their armpit and they may even upgrade that stat to include all 5 of Europe’s top leagues.
It’s early days of course. Bellerín may be the one who finds himself trotting forlornly down the flanks at West Brom, his pace – and all the powers that sprang from it – having faded like hot wee in John Terry’s soup. But if he sustains his current trajectory he’s got all the bits you need to be magnificent. Wenger was right everyone, burn all your money. Burn it now – in a massive Wicker Franny Jeffers.