Deulofeu needs to do nothing

Gerard Deulofeu is 23 years old. That is but a year older than Jose Arnaiz, the youth player who has everyone buzzing.

Gerard Deulofeu seems older, because he has been omnipresent since coming onto the Masia scene as the answer.

Gerard Deulofeu has had chance after chance, at Barça, Sevilla, Everton and Milan. He is now on his last best chance at his home team, under the eyes of a new coach, Ernesto Valverde, who in considering his acquisition in the harsh glare of Camp Nou whistles, summed him up perfectly:

“Sometimes when you insist on doing something, it gets more complicated. You have to let everything flow naturally.”

From the beginning, since he has been the Player Most Likely To, Deulofeu has insisted on doing something. His talent is undeniable. He has pace as well as quickness, can do nifty things with the ball at his feet and has an eye for the incisive pass from the wing. The reason he gets chance after chance is because of this talent.

But also from the beginning, Deulofeu has felt the weight of expectation. “Do something.” “Okay!”

The pressure on him must be unimaginable. Sergi Roberto is a Masia talent who made it. The path was rough for a spell, but in the hands of a coach dedicated to bringing out what he saw in him, Sergi Roberto has become a legit first-teamer who many back for a permanent midfield role in the XI. But Sergi Roberto has a luxury that Deulofeu doesn’t have: less talent.

Sergi Roberto was always considered a smart, hard-working player with a very high football IQ. He’s also a midfielder, a position that, even at Barça, a place where you stumble over midfielders while walking around the Bari Gotic, is devoid of the pressure that is brought to bear on attackers. Barça produces mids like hens produce eggs. Of the long list of bright prospects, the majority of them are mids. If Sergi Roberto doesn’t succeed, there is another mid coming right along.

Barça doesn’t produce in the same numbers, attackers, particularly wingers. What is frustrating about that is that wingers are essential to the system of football that Barça bases its structure on. So when a winger does come along, the pressure is immense. He becomes The One simply because quite often, there isn’t another one. Adama Traore was ruined by his time at Barça B, where he was allowed to do the one thing that he does. His development suffered and now he is knocking around, a talented player who will get chance after chance because he has identical attributes to Deulofeu even as he also has the same flaw. Both players will produce a magical dribble, leave three or four players in their wake, then kick the ball into the stands.

Deulofeu always wants to do something. What Valverde meant by his quote is best embodied in the notion of la pausa. Andres Iniesta is the human embodiment of this quality. At one moment, during the Valencia match, a defender was barreling at Iniesta, hell-bent on making a play, on doing something. Iniesta just stopped. He didn’t dribble, didn’t do a turn or trick. He just stopped. The defender couldn’t, and overshot the mark. Then Iniesta continued on his merry way. You can sometimes do something by doing nothing.

What might Deulofeu have tried in that same situation? Probably faced up the defender and tried a dribble, or push the ball forward then run after it. What he would never, ever have considered is doing nothing. Pressure makes that impossible for him, a player who is in a position that is defined by action. Make something happen.

Every destination he visits is presaged by the same quotes, about Deulofeu being a player who can make things happen. He is. His problem right now is the same problem he has always had, which is that he tries too hard. Valverde, who recalled him from Milan for a 12m buyback that could seem a pittance if Deulofeu can develop into the player he has the talent to, might be the perfect coach for him. What Deulofeu needs is a calm, grounded coach willing to commit to him. Valverde must commit to him of necessity. Barça needs wingers. Badly.

But it is also in Valverde’s grounded, calm temperament, that quality that has already begun to permeate his team. Barça beat Murcia in the Copa del Rey at Camp Nou, but nobody expected they wouldn’t. What was unexpected was the quality of the win, a 5-0 hammering that found the Catalans in complete control. Arnaiz sparkled in a substitute role. Busquets Minor showed a lot of the same savvy and control capabilities of Busquets Major, an outing that Samper champions must have watched while shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Vidal played as a man possessed. Sergi Roberto came in as a sub and delivered one of the passes of the season, a one-touch glitter bomb to Denis Suarez, who knocked home the goal. Almost everyone who played killed it, except for Deulofeu, who was whistled.

People say that he doesn’t have a brain, that he isn’t smart. He is. His problem might be that he is too smart, too good. The beauty of Messi is that, in addition to his colossal football talent and IQ, like Iniesta, he knows when to do nothing. No Barça player, it is safe to say, has ever been attended with the pressure and expectation of Messi, who took on that pressure, shrugged and became the greatest player the game has ever seen.

Deulofeu is smart. Deulofeu is also talented. In many ways, he might be too talented. My life had the potential to be defined by speech impediment, a stutter. It was a significant problem for me, until one day a teacher said, “Wait. Take a breath before you speak. Your brain moves too quickly for your mouth to keep up with.” And suddenly, I could say my name without stammering, could talk to people. To this day, every day, that lesson returns. Valverde could be that person for Deulofeu.

He has already simplified his mission to, “Go out there, beat your man and make something happen.” That Deulofeu tracks back and works on defense now are benefits. They also give him the opportunity to get his hands on the ball sooner. But he gets the ball and because of his talent, sees multiple possibilities, where a lesser player might only see a couple. And too often, he doesn’t seem to know which of the options to choose.

Options define a player’s output. On a run, if Messi cuts right, even though that path might initially seem more clear, maybe he sees that a faster player is there, or the path leads to a dead end. So he will choose a seemingly more complex path that is eventually more rewarding. Xavi often passed up players, even as the fans said, “He’s open.” He would wait a bit, and there it was, a better option. Deulofeu, too much of the time, chooses the wrong option. In an impatient game, that is a fatal flaw.

There was a lot of snarking when he was bought back from AC Milan, a place where he looked better than anywhere before. Why? Freedom. The way Milan defends gave him a backstop. He never had to worry about the other half of the pitch. And the way Serie A teams focus on the center, Deulofeu always had running space on the wing. With that time and space, he had less pressure, more time to consider the many options, time to choose the right one. At Barça, where teams play a more compressed defensive style, time and space are gone. Pedro also suffered from it, for different reasons.

There is an urge to write Deulofeu off, to say he’s stupid and will never amount to anything at Barça. But think back to when culers wanted to sell Sergi Roberto, before Luis Enrique made him a project. Now when he signs his new deal with Barça, his clause will be something around 400m. Life changes.

Deulofeu will keep getting chances, because he is young and has things you can’t coach. A player either has them or he doesn’t. You can’t imagine the pressure he is feeling every day, every time the ball comes to him. But he is 23 years old, and a potential gem. His biggest challenge will be whether he can stop trying to gild the lily, stop thinking that every last possession is going to result in a goal or an assist, that sometimes he just needs the keep the ball moving, then reset. Maybe, just maybe, Deulofeu needs to learn the subtle art of doing something by doing nothing.

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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.

8 Comments

  1. Bruce Wayne
    November 30, 2017

    Busquets Minor showed a lot of the same savvy and control capabilities of Busquets Major, an outing that Samper champions must have watched while shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
    Oh, Jim…

  2. Jim
    November 30, 2017

    I thought the young lad had a really good game and Im not gonna talk him down just because I think Samper deserves a better chance at the club. I hope he goes on to become a real quality player for us and he’s one it’ll be good to keep an eye on. He has the skills and plays with his head up. I like that.

    However, it’s one game and there’s nothing there Samper isn’t capable of. I’ve posted it before but remember it’s not at home against a Spanish third division side in the Copa. It’s away from home in a CL tie the opposition had to win. Hardly the same test. I’ve no problem if Samper isn’t good enough after he gets a chance. My beef has always been that everybody else got that chance of quite a few games and he didn’t and maybe won’t if we buy big. However, If we can bring in better quality there, great.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=he-B2imrcKY

    In general, let’s not go overboard either with that win the other night. I watched the game for 80 minutes after watching the first leg a couple of weeks ago (?) What I saw in both was an awful opposition devoid of ideas, as you’d expect given their league standings, given the runaround eventually by our fringe players.

    In the home tie I liked Busquets, the way Arnaiz took his goal and other cameos such as SR’s lovely flick but other than that nobody stood out for me. I’d agree Deulofeu will have his best chance this year given the circumstances and he didn’t really impress me last night again. He is THE most frustrating player I can remember for some time but he does have all the physical skills ( that pace is frightening) and it’s getting his decision making right which is still the challenge and a big one. Not sure that’s something you can teach.

    Apart from that I was actually a little disappointed in Alcacer, Suarez and I’m obviously not seeing what some others are in Alena. To me these two games have passed him by. Again, he was okay, there’s enough there to keep an eye on him and he’s a big lad which doesn’t hurt but what is his killer skill that’s gonna win him a place in our midfield ? In these two games I can’t remember seeing him score, create a chance, go past anyone or demonstrate great defensive qualities. Just saying.

    A final word on SR. I like him as much as the next person and we’ll never forget his part in PSG or RM but is he now a member of our gala eleven ? Where? Would you rather have him at RB than Semedo ? Long term, not for me. Can he hold down a place in our midfield? Possibly, I’d like to see him tried there rather than Rakitic but we can’t say that’s a given either. He hasn’t really shone there in the past. For me he’s a good fringe player and that we’re looking to him for midfield a sign that we probably need a better midfield.

    A bit curmudgeonly of me, tonight, so I’ll stop there. Tbh, I’m not a great fan of watching the youngsters or second teams so that maybe accounts for it.

    In fact, Pep’s Barca has ruined a lot of football watching for me. Interesting how a lot of people have changed their views on his ways now, isn’t it ? I listened to the Sports writers on Sunday Supplement the last few weeks trying hard to sound like they always knew he’d come good when all we got last year was ” I don’t think he’s appreciated how hard or how different it is in this league ” and other disparaging comments about playing out from the back. With a markedly inferior team to our best one he’s playing pretty much the same way and walking away with it atm.

    Good to see the ball is still quicker than the man !

    • December 1, 2017

      Samper isn’t going to make it at Barça. When he has the ball,he’s fine. It’s when the opponent has the ball that his slow thinking and consistently suspect positioning cause him problems. So he fouls a lot.

      Busquets Minor looked to have something of the anticipatory skills that Busquets Major has, and that Samper seems to lack. Whereever he goes on loan, people say that it isn’t the right situation for him as he languishes on yet another team’s bench, and that he is only a player for Barça.

      What Busquets Major does would be brilliant at any team in world football. Guardiola saw what he could do and kicked Toure Yaya to the curb with the quickness. Vision and astronomical football IQ count for a lot.

      The other thing to notice about Busquets minor is his body position. Like his senior namesake, he takes the ball facing play, his body open, always ready to give and receive. That is something else that Samper lacks.

      Nothing against Samper at all. I just don’t think he has the skill set to do anything at Barça.

      P.S. Guardiola isn’t playing the same way that he did at Barça. His City is playing like an evolved variant that is closer to what Luis Enrique had as an ideal than the sepia-toned memory of what Guardiola did. That’s why wingers and fullbacks were so important to his tactical vision. The game is outside/in now. His Barça forced that evolution, and now the Prem will have to adapt or die, just as the rest of football did in the face of Barça.

      City almost routinely scores goals where the ball goes from end to end in three passes. They’re fantastic goals, but would be considered heresy at Barça, and we know this because when it happened under Luis Enrique, people scoffed and screamed about positional play being abandoned, etc.

      Guardiola’s tactical thinking evolved at Bayern, and has continued to evolve now that he is at City. The only difference between last season and this season is that he has the horses to run his race now, and it’s fun to watch.

  3. luisthebeast
    November 30, 2017

    First.Samper will never make it to Barca,we can forget that,the boy is still playing like he is 18y old.
    Passing the ball around and make some nice trick it s nice but yeah as a CM in Barca you also must know to defend and mark your opponent.
    Young Busquets has all the future ahead to be really the DM that people thought Samper was.
    A game vs a 3d tier team with some first team players is a nice opportunity for youth players to be part of 1st team,we cant judge them.
    I watch when i can B team and there are a lot players that have talent and i trust,like Cucurella,Vitinho,Ruiz and others.
    Can all make it?Not.
    But the best will.

    • Rivaldo
      December 2, 2017

      I think the problem is where Samper has been playing. He is much more like Xavi than Busquets and I said it a couple years ago – that’s where he should play – the Xavi role. That’s if we want to go back to that type of system – relieve Messi from dropping too deep.
      Samper’s movement is very simlar to Xavi’s. Give him a chance there and he’ll shine as a Xavi – as a Rakitic? No (Sergi is better at that even better than Raki at times) but as a Xavi? YES!

  4. Jim
    December 1, 2017

    Oh, sorry, guys., my mistake. It must have been Busquets playing in the CL and Samper playing a Spanish third division team at home in his ONLY match for the firsts so far. Do we never learn about judging so early ? Jeez.

    As for body position maybe have a look at Xavi and Iniesta when they receive the ball. You NEVER try to receive the ball facing where it has come from, you always try to be on the move making a turn either way more effective . Jeez X 2 !

    Passing and control are the most important skills for midfielder at Barca bar none. Neither Xavi not Iniesta are good defenders. Nor is Samper, particularly but Mascherano has made a career out of fouling because he’s been caught out of position so maybe there’s hope for Samper yet.

    Anyway, let’s move on. I was obviously wrong about GDS, Bojan, Cuenca, Jeffren, Hleb, Song, Chiggy, Ibra, Montoya , Kaptoum, Gumbau, Rafinha, Suarez, Gomes, Vidal, Sanchez, Mascherano and many others as well. Anyone remember saying they were so excited about all the great players we brought in last summer and we were set in the midfield for years to come ? No, maybe not.

  5. luisthebeast
    December 1, 2017

    Jim,i have to disagree,Iniesta is an excellent defender,it s never easy when he defend an opponent to beat him.
    Many times steal the ball no matter how talented the opponent is.
    Thats something,we cules,forget to realize but it s an important part of our MFs job.
    Thats why i am mad many times with Andre,Denis,they let opponent escape easy.

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