Thanks to the growing emergence of social media we now have access to the lives of our favourite celebrities and athletes. We immerse ourselves into what they eat, drink, wear, and what they do in their spare time. But you know, this same access to our favourites, leave also the opportunities to see the lives of those that aren’t so much our favourites. With this access that we use to love and revere them, we also scorn, scrutinize. We stand behind the screens of our laptops or smartphones sending negative comment after negative comment, as if we had a direct number to them, wish I guess we do.
It’s weird. It’s weird to me because I try to imagine myself in my regular job, living my regular life, being scrutinized for everything I do. Can you imagine me posting a picture of my frappe-cuppa-latte-macchiato, with cream, 5% soymilk from Starbucks, and then have some random guy, I’ve never met before pop up and say, “So, Costa coffee ain’t good enough for you?” This is the world we live in. And in sports, the criticisms have become much more sinister and more disparaging than coffee snobbery.
In football, your lifestyle away from the sport can be used as false evidence for unlawful slandering. We’ve seen it aplenty in how Raheem Sterling has been public enemy number one for the media. The Manchester City winger cannot do anything extravagant within the life that being a footballer permits without it being linked to his performances on the pitch. It’s a narrative that has entered the territory of racism.
But you know, it needn’t be about racism. Some people just have a big enough capacity to dislike a footballer’s lifestyle with relentless vigour. It seems that in football an unwritten Bill has been passed through whereby if your performances on the pitch are questionable, then you sure better not enjoying your life. Take Arsenal’s right-back, Héctor Bellerín for example.
Born in Barcelona, Catalonia, Bellerín began his football career in Barcelona’s youth system. It was there where we started off as a winger, though his transition to right-back occurred during his move to Arsenal in 2011, where he forged a new life in London. In September 2013, Héctor made his first competitive debut for the first team away to West Brom in the third round of the League Cup.
It was the luck in the unlucky that powered the sails of Bellerín’s Arsenal career, as injuries to key players in his position helped the Spaniard make an all-important Champions League debut in a 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund, in September 2014. Despite it being a very tricky game for him, he never looked back, as he went on to become the starting right-back for the club thus far. On the 21st November 2016, he signed a new long-term contract after agreeing to a deal that ties him to the club until 2022.
With Bellerín, the one aspect of his life that always comes under unreasonable scrutiny is his dress sense. Could you imagine a young boy of 16-years-old, starting a new life in London, barely able to speak the language and not expect him to adopt the diverse fashion sense that the city has to offer? Héctor has the right to hobbies and interests just like us, and when he’s not playing football he has a right to immerse himself into the fashion world.
Though, Bellerín isn’t just only standing out with his dress sense, as earlier this year he became the first Premier League player to give a lecture to the Oxford Union. This was the moment where the Spaniard ditched the boots but still looked immaculately suave, as he addressed his audience on issues pertaining to the Catalan independence, depression in sport and his long-term career goals.
Depression in sports is something that has come to the forefront of sports, in a time where nobody really knows how to address the issue with the right delicacy. In the NBA, Demar DeRozan and Kevin Love both opened up about their bout with depression, whereas – keeping it close to home – club teammate, Per Mertesacker was candid about his career-long fight with the psychological aspect of the sport.
There was also space where Bellerin could also address his naysayers about his affinity to fashion, where he responded (via Versus): “I don’t care. I like how I look” as well as discussing the pressure he feels to do as much as he can for others in his time away from his job, football, claiming: “As players, we need to use our influence to make things better.”
Bellerín is a professional football player, but he also wants to use his platform to change lives for the better. He’s gone from a young teen in youth ranks at Arsenal, with the only bold claims to his name being the blonde streaks in his hair, to a senior member of the first team, who drapes himself with bold fashion-forward garments from high-end designers. Outside of football he wears his hair long and shaggy, but come match-day, that very same hair is tied up into a man-bun.
He’s a football player on the pitch and a style icon off the pitch. You can be both, so how about we stop placing limits on our footballers and let them live their normal lives?