Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto, a pair of news-making graduates

Two Barcelona youth players made news and raised eyebrows this week. Gerard Deulofeu tore it up for Everton, tallying two assists in a performance whose effect was immense as it steered his team to a win. And Sergi Roberto made the La Liga team of the week for the website WhoScored.com. Both players are now being debated for very different reasons.

Youth is all the rage. No, not that youth. The right youth. The Real Madrid squad for its Champions League match at Malmo today has, of its 20 players, 10 that have played for that club’s Castilla. This prompted a culer to note that Barca is headed in the opposite direction, a philosophical and anecdotal notions that is really in search of a conclusion yet to be reached.

Deulofeu had a hand in two key goals for his new team just after he issued a demand for more playing time. Only part of that sounds like a rerun of his time at Sevilla. And for Everton supporters Deulofeu’s showing made that argument for him. In the wake of his two shining moments, there was joy everywhere except in Culerville where knives, already ground to an edge that could cut an atom, came out. Enrique this, Enrique that, stupid this and stupid that. All of the ruckus sparked an observation that dropped into that special Football Twitter place reserved for things nobody wants to mention, which is that the problem with Deulofeu during his Barça audition wasn’t what he did on the ball, but rather what he did off the ball, what he did those times that he wasn’t being brilliant. He was found lacking by two different coaches to a degree sufficient to get him loaned in one case, functionally benched in another.

At Everton, a place that some suggest is his last chance even as we know better, Deulofeu has delivered a match-winning free kick and now a pair of assists that led to match turning/winning goals. Three moments that in their entirety don’t even make a full minute, yet are sufficient to make two proven coaches dummies and a club foolish. Roberto Martinez, his coach at Everton, doesn’t think that Barça will buy him back, whistling past the graveyard of his ongoing efforts to make Deulofeu into a complete player. Because if Martinez makes Deulofeu into the force he has the talent to become, Barça will buy him back in about two seconds. But if Martinez doesn’t make Deulofeu into the player he can become, he winds up with what Unai Emery had, a sullen bench player demanding more playing time in order to prove that he is more than a sullen bench player. Because talent needs hard work to give of its best.

Enter Sergi Roberto.

My nickname for him used to be Vidal Sassoon, because of the lustrous tresses that Sergi Roberto sported as he bounded onto the pitch, ready for another display that would be deemed mediocre, no matter its result. Pep Guardiola said that this player had the talent to be anything he wanted, to play anywhere on the pitch. Yet his place for Sergi Roberto was midfield, filling in for certified culer legends and consistently found wanting. Enrique put Guardiola’s statement to the test and actually tried to play Sergi Roberto “anywhere.” He was an attacking mid, played in the hole, some false 9, a Busquets role. Then when Dani Alves was out and Douglas pranged, an odd name popped up at right back: Sergi Roberto. And he was wonderful, brimming with creativity, attacking flair and defensive mettle. “It was a one off.” Then he did it again. And again. When Alves returned from his knock only to lay a stinker against a rampant Celta Vigo, Sergi Roberto got the call against Las Palmas. He was just as good as he was against Atleti, a resurrection that was only completed when many began to suggest that he should be starting at RB over Alves.

Elsewhere in Masia news, Jonathan Dos Santos is a fixture in a Villarreal XI that is, for the first time in club history, atop La Liga. Dos Santos is in many ways a perfect example of what La Masia has produced of late, far more than players such as Iniesta, Pedro, Busquets etc. He is talented, good enough to start for many teams in La Liga and world football. The likes of Victor Sanchesz, Andreu Fontas, Bojan Krkic and Marc Muniesa have been fixtures of other teams’ XIs. Dos Santos stuck it out at Barça with a good-natured determination that ignored all the bile being flung his way. All he would say is “I am determined to fight for a place at Barca,” and he kept training and kept working, being left out of squad after squad. When he was finally ripped from the locker room of the club he was so determined to make it at, his skills began to sparkle at Villarreal, all one-touch grace and physical presence.

Dos Santos has something of an analog in Sergi Roberto, and a counterpoint in Deulofeu. Both have more talent than Dos Santos, but chose different paths. Sergi Roberto did what the coach told him, worked hard and made the most of the shot that he got. Deulofeu didn’t, was sent off to Sevilla where he did more of the same and is now at Everton, where he has the chance to shine in a less-demanding setup. Barca can’t afford a player who doesn’t do his share of work off the ball and in defense. Everton has more leeway in that regard. In an ideal world, Deulofeu would be at Barça. In that same world, he would have listened to Enrique, developed a knack for tracking back like Pedro and be coming off the Barca bench to make a difference in matches. He can become that extraordinary, match-changing winger at a time when football’s attack has moved to the wings. The world is his, in theory just as it is Sergi Roberto’s, a player who has finally realized the potential that Guardiola boasted of.

It’s easy to dream of a situation where Deulofeu might be coming off the bench. Too many blame the fact that he isn’t on Enrique, rather than Deulofeu. And this is true even as Sergi Roberto sits as an example, as did Pedro before him, of what having talent, humility and a capacity for working hard and doing what the coach tells you can do for a player at Barça. Time will tell with Deulofeu, whether he stagnates at Everton, or recognizes the extraordinary opportunity that he has been given. I, like all culers, hope that it is the latter.

The challenge for Sergi Roberto, on the other hand, seems to be keeping him out of the XI. On form, he might be the team’s best player this season. How and why Enrique decided it would be worth a shot putting him at RB is one for the clairvoyants. In many ways it makes sense, if you think about what a Barca RB has to do, which is facilitate attack, get up and down the pitch and have ball and crossing skills. That Alves was able to transition so neatly into a role that was in effect, right-sided midfielder should have clued us in that the reverse could also be true, that a midfielder could shine at RB.

Sergi Roberto is also lucky in many ways, even as luck is hard work that puts you in a place where you can take advantage of your talent. If he had been part of many other clubs’ youth systems, where a different template is desired, who knows where he would be right now. But this is Barca, where even defenders are attack minded as the team attacks and defends with eleven. The days when Sergi Roberto was deemed a talentless wastrel by supporters are long gone, even if nobody is haling Enrique as a genius for that transformation just yet.

And other youth players are having their day in Sandro, Munir and Gumbau, evan as the team is a ways off that chest-puffing time when Barça, during a match, had a team where all 11 players had spent time at the club’s famed La Masia. But that’s what time and retirements do. That’s also what the unpredictability of youth talent does, something that makes predicting the fates of Sergi Roberto and Deulofeu so hard to predict. Might they be on the same roster, part of an XI where one is at RB and the other RW, playing off the world’s best 10 in Messi? That was a lot harder to imagine last month, than it is right now.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

38 Comments

  1. barca96
    September 29, 2015

    I wouldn’t mind at all about Delboy. I don’t feel any regret not having him. Pedro yes. But not this youngster. I’ve never warmed to him but I do wish he would at least have a season here. But I guess he was so bad at football IQ and attitude that Lucho didn’t even want to give him a chance.

    Talent wise I’ll take him over Munir though. Heck, I’ll take Del Boy over Munir any day. That’s how bad Munir is. I still don’t get Lucho’s fascination with the kid.

    • September 30, 2015

      Have you seen Halilovic for Gijon. Its the first time I think a player is in many ways identical to Messi. If he gets taken care of by his coaches, a la Rijkaard and Pep to Messi, we might be looking at our future saviour.

  2. Jim
    September 29, 2015

    Sorry, Kxevin. I was about to reply to the previous post when this suddenly popped up so I’ll address it first.

    I watched Deulofeu in the match last night. I’ve always held the view that you have more chance of succeeding in moulding someone who has the talent in the first place than not. He has. However, there were two sides to him, even last night. The good was that his crosses for the goals were inch perfect and of a quality that we never see at Barca. Even SR’s cross for Suarez’s goal was very largely Suarez and v little SR for me ( although way better than most of Dani’s efforts in fairness ) . His second was absolutely unplayable. I’m going to say the guy is also trying defensively. He tracked back but tbh isn’t a lot of good at tackling, like most forwards. It’s maybe a tad unfair to major on this, though, when neither Messi nor Neymar are any great shakes at this. The bad was still his decision making for me. I’m gonna say Everton’s passing on the night wasn’t great. He needs a ball hit in front of him to take FBs on at speed and almost everything was half hit behind him which lost momentum. However, there was some bad decision making there, not least in the last move of the game where a goal looked assured till he dithered and made the wrong choice. Still, he undoubtedly helped turn the game around.

    SR has had a couple of good games at the moment, nothing more. Like others, I’ve been impressed by the way he has adapted to the role and going forward he gives us calm on the ball and decent quality delivery. However, he has yet to face any stern test defensively and in the end that will decide.

    The lineup for tonight is TerStegen – Alves Pique Mascherano Mathieu – Rakitic Busquets Iniesta – Sandro Suarez Neymar #fcblive

    What I was going to say in the previous post was that I feared for our defence and midfield unless we got the former right ( Mathieu at CB) and managed to get a whole lot more from Rakitic in terms of playmaking. Iniesta can’t do it all unless you adopt the double DM and free Ini to move forward a bit and just concentrate on getting the passing rhythm going. Our play this season has lacked it for all bar a glorious half and while I reckoned last year we would get away with it due to the coming together of the front three, this year teams may get used to it and anyway we’ve lost Messi’s playmaking. Imo, if we can’t get back to something which forces teams to chase us around it will expose other weaknesses which could hurt us. So let’s see Rakitic hold onto and travel with the ball, look for opportunities forward and generally step up to the plate which had everyone hear lauding his midfield play. So far my ( well used as an example) granny could do 80% of the stuff he does. No, I don’t want him to fail. I want us to win every game. I want him to be worth a place on the team. He’s had loads of time to adapt and, again to me, seems to be going backwards.

    Anyway, time to recharge the glass and see how we handle the whirlwind that tonight’s opposition are supposed to bring. Did I mention I reckon Neymar has to play more through the middle in Messi’s absence ?

    81

  3. Jim
    September 29, 2015

    I have no idea here the 81 came from. It’s a sign, obviously . . . But of what ?

  4. ian_percival
    September 29, 2015

    What the Fuck is wrong with this sandro guy,he can’t bury a simple chance,did the same thing against UD PALMAS where he missed a sitter. He’s just wasting his oppoturnity to join the first team

  5. TITO
    September 29, 2015

    This aint funny anymore. Im talking about TS.

      • Jim
        September 29, 2015

        Not sure what Mathieu’s instructions were, Ciaran. Seemed to be marking a post rather than zonal for whatever reason. If zonal, he was at fault as well. However, as has been said, that’s TS’ area all day. It was a flap and that’s all there is to it.

  6. TITO
    September 29, 2015

    Thats TS space. He has to be boss in those 5 metres. He should have kicked both of them along with the ball.

  7. Davour
    September 29, 2015

    Seems to be several at fault for the goal. But my big worry is Neymar – he is completely lost. Loses the ball, does not let it go in time and seems overall confused. Really poor. Like the general passing game; people are moving to slow and passing lacks accuracy. What is going on?

    • Jim
      September 29, 2015

      Needs to move central. He’s not gonna get anything going out wide tonight.

  8. ian_percival
    September 29, 2015

    About TS, I feel very angry,then when i see his face,i just feel pity for him,lol he looks so innocent. Pique and co. are just disgrace

    • Jim
      September 29, 2015

      They are playing a storming game, they have the fastest forward I’ve seen in ages and we are struggling without Messi. There’s no need to be abusive about TS. I think he was at fault as well but he’s our keeper and doesn’t deserve that. Nor do our defence who are constantly being caught one on one with no cover. Well come into this in the second half as they tire. As long as we don’t concede again.

      • Davour
        September 29, 2015

        Messi always makes a difference, but this is the Celta “deference” all over again, humbled by their pressing and pace. We can’t string passes together without great effort; they don’t pass and move, but pass and hope someone will move. A late pass by Busi illustrates this – thinking Masche would support him, but the ball found no one as Masche remained passive. Final minutes looked a but better; Ney waking up, perhaps? I think he simply has to.

        And why is Alves playing instead of Roberto? Seniority beats form, I guess…

  9. TITO
    September 29, 2015

    Absolutely amateurish play from us the entire half. They have no idea what they are doing.

  10. ian_percival
    September 29, 2015

    Pique and sandro are just disgracing us

  11. TITO
    September 29, 2015

    One thing i realized tonight and whats has bothered me for a while. We all hoped during the recent years that Iniesta will take charge in our midfield and will lead this team the way Xavi did. But, that will never happen. He’s already 31 or 32 and doesnt have the pace, strength and who knows, maybe even desire to do what he did until recently. Rakitic is not the answer, at least not the way he has been used.
    As i see it, Busi has to take charge in that area and be more determined.

    • Jim
      September 29, 2015

      For me the problem is that Xavi had Ini and Busi. Together they could play it round all day. Now there are the twin problems of less skill in that area and. Some players not working hard enough to show at the tight time.

      Tough now as they have something to hold onto and lethal pace up front.

      • G6O
        September 29, 2015

        And it’s not just that — we don’t get a lot of opportunities to appreciate that because he always plays, but when we have Messi out there he serves as an extra man in midfield, whether he plays in the center or on the right, and then he has the ability to move forward fast enough to be fully functional forward too. You lose him and that advantage in midfield goes away too.

        January can’t come quick enough

  12. Jim
    September 29, 2015

    Brilliant from Iniesta. He has the key.

  13. Jim
    September 29, 2015

    Nooooooooooooo ,!! Ini off. We’re stuffed.

    • Davour
      September 29, 2015

      This is becoming ridiculous, the bad luck. Ban coming back to hunt us, our thin squad? Moment of truth…

  14. TITO
    September 29, 2015

    Iniesta is only one piece of the big picture that is not working as it should.
    I just hope we somehow manage to get through the group stages

  15. Davour
    September 29, 2015

    Roberto! The only thing that is working with this team at the moment!

    • Davour
      September 29, 2015

      LE got it right with the subs… LS finally finds space.

      • georgjorge
        September 29, 2015

        What. a. finish. Our midfield and defense couldn’t pass out the ball against a decently well-pressing side – and that’s a concern that needs to be adressed by LE – but the team surely got the will to win.

        I will be honest: last season, I didn’t see any reason for Sergi Roberto to stay with this team. He could fill in decently for Busquets, but we already had Mascherano for that, and I couldn’t see any other role that he would fill well.

        But if Sergi Roberto, after saving our right side from being overrun for the first few games, now also turns out to be the saving grace of our midfield, I’ll very gladly eat my words of a few months back.

  16. Davour
    September 29, 2015

    Wonderful comeback. Team regained some purpose; let’s hope they can retain it. The criticism has been plentiful, so let’s just enjoy this win and hope LE has a constructive talk with Neymar. Also pleased with how Munir responded, perhaps being disappointed not to be included in the first 11. Vamos!

  17. Tommy11
    September 29, 2015

    Rafinha out! Barely 10days later, Messi out! 3days later Iniesta out! How can a team be so unlucky wt injuries!

    • LAcule
      September 29, 2015

      tommmy its not bad luck. as kxevin has mentioned the team has looked tired all year. all the fixtures from last year, copa america, the long preseason tour, the crammed cup fixtures before la liga kicked off thats what is leading to multiple players getting injured.

      couple that with not being able to adequately reinforce the squad until january and you have the perfect recipe for listless performances and multiple injuries. ill echo the sentiment that january cannot come soon enough.

  18. deerwithwings
    September 30, 2015

    LE’s post game comments sum it up for me. Those guys fought tooth and nail for that victory and they got it. Also, this is why Suarez is on the team, he can have 15 bad touches but he’ll score a game winning golazo on the 16th. He never stops. It’s fine to be critical, but let’s call a spade a spade. The team is finding ways to win. Come January and there ought to be fitness and reinforcements. It’s ok for fans to be patient.

    Really happy to see SR progressing. That goal is only going to do wonders for his confidence. Shame Munir missed a sitter because I thought he played he best game so far.

  19. lovell
    September 30, 2015

    Well there goes murphy’s law.
    Things go wrong Fast.
    If Samper is half as good as they say, we need him here Now.
    Rakitic should replace him in Segunda B, a match made in heaven, those two.

  20. September 30, 2015

    Finally, all what I care for is the 3 points, arguably the best 3 points we have earned in a long time.
    However,,, I cant help saying the following:
    We were really poor for most of the game. Neymar and Suarez were non existant – this coming from 2 players who were supposed to carry our attack in the absence of the main main,, dont know what went wrong. Y’day it looked like, without Messi dragging players Suarez and Neymar was not able to find any space.
    The only good moment for Suarez was his golazzo. For the rest, he was really poor, worrying actually. But I will have him in the team at any cost. If he can have 49 bad moments and score an important goal in the 50th touch, its ok.

    I think introduction of Alba and SR turned the game for us. I now think, all what SR needed was a bit of confidence and trust. With his excellent show in RB earning plaudits, he is looking good even in the midfield now.

    I thought TStegen was generally good, except for that goal. Any day, a ball within 1 – 2 metres from the goal, from a corner, is always for the keeper. What is incredible is that the goal didnt seem to affect his confidence. I liked how even after the goal how he player the sweeper role.

    The Team needs to somehow drag us till Jan now. In our local language there is a saying something like – one who was hit by lightening was bitten by a snake.. This came to my mind watching Iniesta holding his hammy.

    • barca96
      September 30, 2015

      That’s a beautiful metaphor.

    • September 30, 2015

      Being a Malayali, Im not able to stop giggling after reading the translation 🙂 Well put!

  21. luisthebeast
    September 30, 2015

    Usually i watch Barca games alone in home.Yesterday i made the mistake to watch the game with some friends.Well i believe that if we trade our fanbase and Camp Nou crowd with Liverpool s it would be perfect.Because the you will never walk alone is perfect.To whistle ur team that just won the treble and fight to overcome a game is pathetic.This team dont deserve that.Thank god we have those players and that fighter.Luis ur passion is my passion.

  22. luisthebeast
    September 30, 2015

    People can laugh as much they want about English teams and their results.But English teams are proud of their fans and their passion.Maybe they dont play the best football but they are behind their team until the final whistle and even after a loss they are singing.I admire them.Too bad Barca after a big win tonight u can hear only whining and critics.And now if Lucho give a chance to Samper critics will say where is Grimaldo?And if he piks Grimaldo where is Alena?And if he piks Alena where is that guy from Infantil A?And if we won the treble again,yes but Pep did it better.

  23. Barcathegreatestever
    September 30, 2015

    I’m in love with the mentality of Enrique’s Barca! First Rafinha, now Sergi Roberto and Munir focused, disciplined, confident. Suarez looking to take next years Balon D’ OR. Actually Suarez may deserve a lot of credit too; Liverpool sure believed that he was the mental force on their team. Give some credit to B Leverkusen invigorated by Messi’s absence, yet limited to one earned chance miffed by Chicharito. IMO the 4-1 loss to Celta is their only bad game, discounting the 4-0 to Athletic because 2 days rest plus travel after the overtime supercopa. Enrique’s comments that the players deserve more loyalty is spot on, look at Athletic at the bottom of the table; those 3 games with Barca gutted them. We followed up with the a win at the Calderon. If Real lose points this weekend I’ll consider this a perfect start to the season. Sometimes I’m disappointed and a little sad when we are not doing so well; covering it up by hating on the players is a downer and confusing

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