This summer, we're featuring some of the players who have appeared in our academy Young Gun section of the match day programme in 2020/21. Next, we have left back, Joel Lopez.
When Arsenal came calling, it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t turn down. Barcelona was all I’d ever known, but I knew straight away that this was the club for me.
I loved growing up in Barcelona. As a kid, maybe five years old, I remember playing with my brother and dad in the park, and we’d spend hours practising passing, dribbling and skills. Anything really, as long as the ball was at my feet. We had a park just outside our apartment in Barcelona and it was really nice to grow up in an environment like that. My family taught me everything.
Obviously, I was lucky enough to watch some of the greatest Barcelona teams of all time too. It was a real golden era of the club. When I was really young, I remember going to Camp Nou for the very first time and Ronaldinho was on the pitch. I was just blown away because he was like nothing I’d ever seen before. When you’re a kid, it almost felt like he was an alien or something from out of this world, and then a little kid called Lionel Messi came along! It was an amazing handover between two of the greatest we’ve ever seen.
Once I realised that playing football is something I enjoy, my family signed me up to a team in the local area and I loved it right from the start. We played together for a while, but I remember that in my final season we played some amazing football and had the chance to play Barcelona, and this is where it all started. I played really well on the day and that’s when Barcelona offered to sign me!
I joined them aged nine and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about my time there. It was an amazing experience and they taught me so much. At Barcelona, football is all about having the ball, appreciating the ball and education, so that taught me a lot about the game from a very young age.
I played with a lot of very talented players during my time at La Masia too. I played with Robert Navarro, Iliax Moriba and Pablo Moreno, plus loads of other really good players. We were a very good generation and it really boosts your development when you’re surrounded by talent like that.
I didn’t realise as a kid, because I was just taking everything in my stride, but now that I’m older, I realise how big it is that I was able to learn at La Masia as a kid of Barcelona. I’ve realised how much they taught me about football and how certain values and beliefs are ingrained into me. They taught me about tactics and the art of the game, and I think as you get older, you realise more and more just how much they taught you.
The first time I heard from Arsenal, it was during my last season in Barcelona. I was 15 at the time and Barcelona wanted to keep me, but the first time I heard from Arsenal, I couldn’t believe it. I was with my parents, brother and agent at the time, and I just couldn’t stop laughing! I was so happy! I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen at the time, but I had such a good feeling about the move. When a club like Arsenal calls your name, it’s different. It feels amazing. From there, it was stuck in my mind. I had a vision I wanted to achieve, and in the end, I obviously made the move to north London.
For me, it was the history and class of the club. Not only their history of playing beautiful football and winning trophies, but their history in the academy too. With the projection that this club provides to young players, it was a massive incentive for me to sign.
I think the fact that players like Hector and Cesc followed this path gave me confidence in my decision too. They left Barcelona at a similar age to me, and Hector is someone I really admire. Not only as a player, but as a person too. He’s someone I’ve always appreciated. Hector has been amazing to me ever since I joined the club, but it’s honestly not just me in the academy. He tries to help everyone and he’s such a good influence in training. I don’t need to say anything about Hector on the pitch because we all know how important he is. It’s easy to forget that he’s still only 26 too because he burst onto the scene at such a young age.
I’ve been here at Arsenal for three years now and I’ve loved every minute of it. I remember when I first joined, I was shocked at the physicality of the game compared to Spanish football, but I adapted really well to Arsenal’s style of play. I couldn’t believe how much everyone was running during my first game! It was such a new experience to me – they were so passionate and physical! But I realised straight away that I needed to step up and I now believe I’m a much more physical and aggressive player.
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