by Tom Lees - 2nd December 2015
We are now in the era of YouTube wonder kids, thousands of videos and vines all highlight the ‘next big thing’, to steal a Brock Lesnar moniker, but how many of these wonder kids go on to live up to the hype, and how difficult must it be for them to not start believing it themselves. In the last year the likes of Hachim Mastour, Martin Ødegaard, Lee Seung Woo and Gabigol have found their abilities all over social media outlets with taglines such as ‘Next Messi’ and ‘New Neymar’.
These comparisons of course are not a new thing in general, for years the ‘next Maradona’ was touted, but with social media exploding, plus video game titles such as Football Manager or FIFA becoming more popular, the comparisons are more common and more varied. One of these wonder kids was Gerard Deulofeu, a product of La Masia, his performances at youth level quickly gave rise to the ‘Spanish Messi’ taglines.
Deulofeu joined Barcelona’s youth academy at the age of 9, working his way through the respective youth teams until making his first senior appearance for Barcelona B in March 2011, aged 16 at the time. During this time Gerard has also regularly represented the Spanish National team at Under 16 and 17 level, helping the Under 17’s to the final of the 2010 UEFA European Under 17 Championship. Deulofeu opened the scoring in the final, but his side were ultimately beaten by England 2-1. By this time his reputation had grown, social media was full of videos of his time at La Masia and Spanish youth levels, anticipation was high as to not if, but when he would break into the Barcelona first team on a regular basis.
His progression continued at pace during 2011-2013, with regular appearances for the Barcelona B side, plus a highly successful run at Spanish Under 19 level, winning the UEFA European Under 19 Championships in 2011, then defended the title a year later in 2012. After the 2012 tournament, held in Estonia, Deulofeu was awarded the title of ‘Golden Player’. These performances would quickly earn him a place in the Spanish Under-21 setup.
After the 2012/13 season for Barcelona B, where Deulofeu scored an impressive 18 goals in 33 appearances, it seemed he was ready to face football at a higher club level, although not yet ready to compete for a starting place at Camp Nou. Talk of a loan move away from Spain surfaced and the opportunity to join Everton for a season presented itself, managed by fellow Spaniard Roberto Martinez. This move was full of excitement and intrigue, was he really the real deal, was it all just hype, how would he cope with the physical demands of the English game. Everton fans hoped all the rumours were true, Barcelona fans hoped he could learn the discipline they felt his game lacked. Both sets of fans were soon to be appeased.
Despite a tentative introduction to English football, it became clear the Roberto Martinez was the ideal coach for Gerard to work with, almost man managing his game from the touchlines on occasion, advising when to track back and work from the team. His class shone from the get go, his quick feet, the ability to beat a man, the excitement and crowd anticipation whenever the ball was at his feet, it did not take long before he became a fan favourite. Of course he was still a little raw and inconsistent, but that something special was there for all to see. Deulofeu made 29 appearances for Everton in the 2013/14 season, helping the club to 5th place in the Premier League and even earning himself a full Spanish International appearance against Bolivia in a warm up game before the 2014 World Cup. Despite hope from Everton fans that they may be able to hold onto the Spanish starlet, it was confirmed by Barcelona that we would not be returning for a second loan spell as he had been promoted to their first team squad. Deulofeu went on to write an open letter thanking the staff, team mates and fans for their support during his time there.
He returned to the Blaugrana full of confidence, ready for his time to shine on the biggest stage, but very soon his dreams were to be dashed. Rumours began to surface that his ego and attitude were causing problems in the squad, something that new coach Luis Enrique was not about to stand for. Much to Deulofeu’s surprise, on August 14th a loan offer from fellow La Liga side Sevilla was accepted by the club and the player was on the move again. Clearly disappointed at the transfer, the move did not prove to be successful. Despite impressing early on with a number of quality assists, Deulofeu was soon to have a public falling out with Sevilla coach Unai Emery and would find himself sat on the side-lines rather than getting the game time he needed. It was the first major setback in the players career, his future at Barcelona seemed uncertain, and was even selected by Spanish newspaper ‘Marca’ to be in their ‘Worst La Liga XI’ for that season.
Towards the end of the 2014/15 season however it was picked up on Twitter that Deulofeu had been ‘favouriting’ and ‘retweeting’ favourable messages from Everton fans asking for him to return. It was clear that there was a bond between the player and the fans and rumours surfaced that a second loan spell could be on the horizon for the next season. What surprised everyone that a loan move didn’t happen, a permanent transfer did. Deulofeu joined Everton on July 1st 2015 for a reported £4.1 million, although Barcelona inserted a buy back clause into the contract. The dream to play for Barcelona may have disappeared for the immediate future, but the player was back in an environment he loved, and where he was loved.
Picking up straight where he left off in 2014, Deulofeu had soon earnt a place in the Everton starting eleven, forming a bond with star striker Romelu Lukaku. With each game his star was growing brighter and brighter, offering a masterclass in counter attacking wing play and quality assists, he had formed an exciting trio with Lukaku and Ross Barkley that was propelling Everton up the table, making the side a must watch for all neutrals.
So where are we currently with Gerard Deulofeu? Is he the Spanish Messi? The next big thing? No, well at least not yet. He is a fantastic prospect, a highlight reel, bringing excitement every game he plays. Still far from the finished product but learning game by game. How does he rate as of right now though? At club level he is a difference maker, capable of playing for most sides, maybe not at elite level but not far off. For example, look at the current Manchester United side, lambasted for playing ‘boring’ football, place Deulofeu in that side alongside Martial and Rooney, they become a far more exciting outfit. So although unfinished he is playing at a very high level already.
As for where we are in Spanish terms, the National side wide man role is currently occupied by Manchester City’s Jesus Navas. So how do the two compare? Both Navas and Deulofeu are pacey, both capable of beating a full back. However although Jesus Navas is slightly more consistent, Deulofeu brings more excitement and his final ball is of much higher quality. Also the ability to bring ‘the unknown’ is one of the greatest qualities a wide man can bring, defenders are terrified of an unpredictable forward, especially one with pace. This is a quality that Deulofeu possesses, whereas Jesus Navas is slightly more predictable. So is Deulofeu the better player, well that comes down to opinion, at International level experience goes a long way, but if La Roja come calling again Deulofeu would not look out of place right now.
What of the future? Well Barcelona do have a buy back clause in Deulofeus contract, although his play style may not currently suit Luis Enrique’s side. The player clearly loves Everton and his game is benefitting from that, but as much as it pains Toffees fans, the club is not financially in a position to keep their top young talents long term. John Stones, Lukaku, Barkley and Deulofeu are already the names flying around the transfer rumour mill and keeping all at the club seems an almost impossible task. Personally I feel spending a few more years at Goodison would be great for the player, he has game time, Worldwide exposure and fans that adore him, but as his performances grow so does the interest.
Where the future lies for Gerard Deulofeu is unclear, he could well go on to exceed the early hype, prove to be the wonder kid he was touted to be. The current Spanish Under-21 Captain has already achieved so much at such a young age, it’s hard to predict just how far his career will go. One thing is for sure though, with Gerard Deulofeu anything is possible, because he’s magic, you know.