La Liga 2011-12: Five teenagers to keep an eye on this season
Simon Jalie introduces us to five youngsters who could shoot to prominence in Spain this term
In addition to the glorious status afforded to them as concurrent holders of the World Cup and the European Championship, Spain now boasts supremacy in the Under-19 and Under-21 European categories.
It is no surprise, therefore, that La Liga is bursting with impeccable young players who are on the verge of becoming household names.
Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona B)
Deulofeu is a Catalan name which means “made by God” and there is certainly something of the divine about this particular incarnation. A quick, immensely accomplished dribbler who tends to hug the left touchline, Gerard is only 17 but is already starring for Spain’s Under-19 team. Media speculation at the weekend suggested that English giants Chelsea and Arsenal are battling to secure his services but the Catalans are unlikely to allow him to leave. Deulofeu is only just settling into life in the Segunda B with Barcelona’s reserve team after being promoted from the Juvenil A this summer. He made his unofficial first team debut in Barca’s pre-season tour of America but is yet to figure in a competitive fixture. For the player touted as the most exciting Masia graduate since Lionel Messi, it is surely only a matter of time before he outgrows his current surroundings.
Pablo Sarabia (Getafe)
Pablo Sarabia is one in a long line of eye-catching Real Madrid academy graduates who has had to move away from the club in search of competitive football because Florentino Perez and Jose Mourinho would rather buy players than develop them. But Real’s myopic urgency, their desperation to garner immediate success, has proved beneficial to other La Liga clubs looking to broker deals for some of the best young players in Europe. Getafe have been particularly auspicious in that regard (Esteban Granero, Roberto Soldado and Dani Parejo spring to mind) and in Sarabia they are seeking a replacement for the formidable cult figure of Manu del Moral, who left to join Sevilla this summer. Sarabia is a skilful wide man and, like his predecessor Manu, has demonstrated a fantastic eye for goal in his career so far. As Luis Garcia Plaza looks to exploit that strength, we can expect the captain of Spain’s Under-19 team to get plenty of playing time at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez. If sources in Madrid are to be believed, it may be only a matter of time before Alvaro Morata ““ his old friend from Valdebebas ““ joins him.
Malaga spent a fortune on squad reinforcements over the summer but they only invested heavily in one teenager, stumping up â‚¬6m to prise Francisco Roman Alarcon, or Isco, from Valencia. Isco, along with Paco Alcacer, was the pride of Valencia’s youth academy and was expected to become a regular in the senior squad from this season onwards. He will of course, but not at Mestalla. It is the Andalusian fans at the Rosaleda who hope to be delighted by his technical talents. There is, of course, plenty of competition in Manuel Pellegrini’s squad, and some exceptional young players trying to break through like Juanmi, Ignacio Camacho and Recio, but it is likely Isco will carve out a niche. He has scored two goals in two appearances for Spain’s Under-21 side, notching a brace in a 7-2 win over Georgia earlier this month and, if he can consistently replicate that efficiency in front of goal, he will become more than just a useful reserve for the Boquerones.
Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Zinedine Zidane’s son Enzo was training with Real Madrid’s first team in the absence of the international players this week, although it will be some time before he makes his debut in a competitive fixture. While we wait for Zidane’s progeny to develop, we can busy ourselves with admiring his first Real Madrid protÃ©gÃ©, Raphael Varane. The 18-year-old centre-half joined from Lens this summer with a reputation as one of the best young defensive prospects in France. The maturity and ability he showed in pre-season, however, seemed to cast him as more than just an exciting prospect. He is as commanding in the air and as comfortable on the ground as Laurent Blanc but without the haughty languidness of the former France captain. Zidane is already demonstrating remarkable acuity in his search for talent and, as comparisons between Varane and Fernando Hierro abound, the new Real Madrid Director of Football’s first major recommendation looks like a fine one.
Juan Bernat (Valencia)
Valencia winger Juan Bernat had a difficult competitive debut in the tortuous season opener against Racing Santander two weeks ago. With Los Che trailing to the Cantabrians at half time, Bernat suffered the indignity of an early substitution and it will be interesting to see what Unai Emery’s next move is regarding the 18-year old from Cullera. There is a possibility that he could be returned to the B team where he will continue to grow and, most likely, excel. For the player’s sake, however, one would hope he is given another chance in the first team. Bernat was included in the starting XI against Racing as reward for his scintillating pre-season form. With lots of players serving at international tournaments over the summer, he was originally just making up the numbers for Emery, but goals and match-winning performances catapulted him into first team contention. Hopefully we will see much more of him sooner rather than later, even if playing time comes at the expense of other young gems such as Pablo Piatti, Sergio Canales and Dani Parejo.