by Tom Lees - 10th February 2016
La Masia has been responsible for providing football with some of its greatest players of modern times, and is seen as the finest youth academy in the game. After a troublesome recent period, insiders at La Masia have become increasingly excited about a number of their young stars, Kaptoum, Oriol Busquets, Iñaki Peña and an exceptional pair of youngsters who were born in 1998. Firstly, there is Korean Lee Seung-Woo, who was one of the players involved in FIFA’s transfer embargo that was handed down to the club, Lee has only recently been allowed to return to playing action. The other star from 1998 is an impressive midfield leader by the name of Carles Aleñá.
Born into a family of Barcelona fans, Carles Aleñá would join the Catalan giants aged only 8 years old and would progress well through the various Barcelona youth sides before signing his first contract with the club aged 16. By this time Aleñá had already begun attracting attention from clubs all over Europe, but he was committed to the Catalan side and since signing his contract has progressed into the Juvenil A side which boasts a number of talented youngsters. On occasions this season Aleñá has also been called up to the Barcelona B team, making 8 appearances to date in the third tier of Spanish football against much more experienced opposition. His appearances have impressed senior coach Luis Enrique and as I write this Aleñá is currently training with the Barcelona fist team as they prepare for a Copa del Rey clash with Valencia, a game in which Aleñá could make his Barcelona debut. This rapid progression is a sign of the immense potential and talent that the Spanish midfielder has.
A natural leader on the pitch Aleñá has captained the majority of sides he has played for, both at Barcelona youth level and national youth setups. After impressing as the star in Spain’s under 16 and under 17 selections, the midfielder is now expected to be called into the Spanish Under 19 squad in the not too distant future and will eventually go on to represent La Roja at senior level. In his younger years Aleñá was slightly undersized, small of stature and at times would be physically outmatched by opponents. However, in recent years he has grown into a fine, strong physical specimen and is now able to dominate games with his ability and presence both at club and national level. Although not the quickest, his ability on the ball and great game intelligence combined with tremendous skill mean that any pace the midfielder lacks does not impact his quality.
The Spaniard caught the eye of fans outside of Barcelona with an outstanding individual goal against AS Roma in the UEFA Youth League in November last year, with many labelling the youngster as ‘the next Messi’. Although Aleñá has many of the same qualities of the majestic Argentine, he is a completely different player. Rather than a forward, Aleñá is a dynamic central midfielder, strong and commanding, a calm head under pressure and a creative force for those around him. Although his favoured position is central, he can play in all midfield positions comfortably which have seen the youngster draw comparisons with Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and even Diego Maradona. His left foot is like a wand with which the youngster wields magic, whether it be a killer pass, a majestic dribble or a sure strike into the goal. Aleñá has it all, defensive, attacking, creative, powerful, dynamic, skilful and a real threat to the opposition at all times. Technically fantastic and with great game intelligence, Aleñá isn’t just a playmaker to his side, but can orchestrate the entire game around him. He has been hugely impressive at the various youth levels and if he is able to carry that on into the senior setup he will go on to be one of the finest players in the World.
It has been a difficult few years for the Barcelona youth sides, with the transfer embargo handed down by FIFA, star youngsters unable to play and some being forced to leave the setup, plus Barcelona B facing relegation from the second tier. But in the likes of Carles Aleñá and the players of the Juvenil sides there is genuine excitement for the future. Aleñá is not the successor to Iniesta, neither is he the new Busquets or Xavi Hernández, Carles Aleñá has what it takes to be a superstar in his own right. A genuine World class talent, a player that could make an impact on the whole sport like his heroes of Barcelona past. In twenty years from now we may no longer be asking if a player is the next Iniesta, the new Xavi, instead we might ask, could we have the next Carles Aleñá breaking through. There is a lot still for the player to learn, a lot to achieve, but the promise is real, excitement genuine. Carles Aleñá can be a star, not just a wonderkid, a true great of the game.