Barcelona’s football squad has just started pre-season training for the 2012/13 season. As yet they have only made one new signing – Jordi Alba the left back has come from Valencia, after some terrific performances for the national team in the Euro Championships. The local newspapers still insist that the team needs to sign another central defender, though there does not seem to be anybody of sufficient class available, at least not at the price Barça can afford. However a new topic has emerged to keep us Barça fans engrossed for weeks to come. Will Gerard Deulofeu join the first team squad and become Barça’s next superstar?
Deulofeu is an exciting attacking player as anyone who saw his performances for the Spanish sub19 team can confirm. They have just won the European Championship for that age level for the second year in succession. And with Deulofeu as their key star. He was also a star with the sub19 team the year before. Although he is only 18 years old he has already consolidated himself as a key player for the B team. Now after his outstanding performances for the national sub19 team, the press are pressing his case to become a first team player. Can he do it?
Easier said than done. He is undoubtedly an exceedingly gifted player. He has great pace, can run at, and past defenders, can cross well and can score goals too. He is a bit like Cristiano Ronaldo, though he most reminds me of another Portuguese player, the former Barça star, Luis Figo. However the current Barcelona squad is not exactly short of attacking players. It looks like new coach Tito Vilanova will have four world class players to choose from for next season – David Villa, Pedro Rodríguez, Alexis Sánchez and the incomparable Leo Messi. In addition he currently has on the books three exciting and high class reserves in Ibrahim Afellay, Cuenca and Tello. It is asking a lot for an 18 year old to jump ahead of that lot. Yet Barça have a tradition of giving their young players the chance to shine in the first team. Just about all the current first team players made their first appearances when still teenagers. So if Deulofeu is to make it to the top then he really should begin to do it this season.
Another factor to bear in mind when discussing the prospects for a young player is the element of chance. And here is where lady luck may just be offering Deulofeu a helping hand. Though Vilanova has at his disposal seven attacking players, only four of them are actually available at the moment. Villa has still be given the all clear after his serious injury, Cuenca is also recuperating from his operation, while Tello is away with the Spanish Olympic squad. Add to this the rumours from the local press that Afellay may be on the verge of signing for another team. So Deulofeu has a golden opportunity to make his mark during the pre-season matches. He has a week’s rest after the sub19 championship, but joins the squad next Monday, in time for the team’s first friendly in Hamburg on the 24th. If he goes on to demonstrate his talents during these friendly matches, then he may well push himself ahead of the likes of Tello, Afellay and Cuenca. There is also the small matter of David Villa and his state of health. If, by some misfortune, he has not made a full recovery, then this too opens up another opportunity for Deulofeu.
The flip side of the above is that Barça do not like to rush their young players too much. They prefer to introduce them into the first team gradually. Deulofeu is after all only 18 years old and though an exciting prospect, he still has much to learn about when to dribble on his own and when to pass to a team mate. He is though the best placed of the current crop of youngsters to make the step up and I do expect him to make some first team appearances this season, even though he remains a B team player. As to whether he can make the final step up to become a superstar we are likely to have to wait more than one season to get an answer to that question.