by Tom Lees - 1st December 2015
If we were to go back in time 12 months and ask Barcelona fans for their opinion of Sergi Roberto and his future at their club, it would not have been music to the young midfielders’ ears. 12 months in football can be a very long time indeed however.
Sergi Roberto was seen as one of the shining lights of La Masia, joining the Cadete age group in 2006/07 and going on to play a key role for the Barcelona B side that went on to win promotion back to the Segunda División for the first time since the 1998-99 season. He impressed to such an extent that Pep Guardiola rewarded him with his first team debut on May 21st 2011.
Due to his style of play he was seen as the eventual successor to Andres Iniesta, enormous shoes to fill, but a sign of how much potential he had shown at a young age. With Thiago also impressing, it was believed that they would become the future Xavi-Iniesta partnership in front of the established class of Sergio Busquets. The future of Thiago, would play a major role in Sergi’s future, but not in the way he would have hoped.
Thiago Alcântara, the son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, was allowed to leave Barcelona for Bayern Munich in 2013, much to the dismay of Barcelona fans Worldwide. The anger at this loss, of an admittedly World class talent, such as Thiago was not only directed at the board but also Sergi Roberto, who was seen as taking Thiago’s ‘spot’.
At a club the size of Barcelona, playing within the shadows of two of Spain’s greatest ever midfielders, it was hardly surprising that Sergi’s form and progression suffered. The calls for his transfer grew louder, rumours surfaced of a potential move to England and it seemed like his days at Camp Nou may well be coming to a sad end.
Then Luis Enrique, former coach of the B team within which Sergi was a key member, took over the reins of the Catalan giants. Still the calls from the fans against Sergi were voiced, but Lucho stood firm, indicating that he was a key member of his squad. Even as a big fan of the player, which I am, I could not see how Barcelona and Sergi could have the future together he hoped for, I felt that a move to a side like Tottenham under Pochettino would have been ideal, a chance to shine without big shadows, of course this never really was on the cards.
Towards the end of the clubs historic 2014/15 season, Daniel Alves strongly hinted that his exit during the summer was a probability. With a transfer ban still in place and a replacement right back in Douglas just not being at the required level, an opportunity arose, an opportunity that Sergi Roberto grabbed with both hands during the pre-season tour to America, impressing with his ability to cover in an unfamiliar role.
As we know now, Daniel Alves decided against leaving Camp Nou but injuries at the beginning of the season meant that again the right back position required cover, step forward Sergi Roberto who turned in some dazzling displays. Visibly you could see the confidence returning to the youngster, a feeling of belonging again, the crowd who had for so long been fiercely critical were now applauding his efforts. Upon Alves’ return to action, Sergi was given the opportunity to play in his preferred role in the middle of the park. Unrecognisable from a year previous, this was the La Masia talent starting to fulfil his early potential.
The fans found a new love and respect for his effort, performance and will to succeed when it would have been so easy to look elsewhere for a lesser challenge. If anything Sergi Roberto, with his desire, passion, hard work, flexibility and character had shown all the traits that critics felt Cesc Fabregas lacked during his return in previous seasons.
Hard work can go only get you so far at a club the scale of Barcelona however, that little bit extra is what really makes the difference, Sergi, now full of self-belief, has started to bring his own style to the table. Highlighted with the spectacular, and popularly vined, back heel volley assist against Getafe at the end of October. Although many will say, “ok, but it’s Getafe”, you need to have such a level of self-belief to perform that when you are surrounded by the World’s best players.
The pinnacle of Sergi Roberto’s return to form was still to come, and of all places to perform, El Clásico at the Santiago Bernabéu was quite the stage. His driving run through the Madrid midfield, classily assisting Luis Suarez to open the scoring in the 4-0 rout could well be the moment that defines his Barcelona career. The fans who once whistled, now cheer his name, there are even calls presently for Sergi to replace Ivan Rakitic in the regular starting eleven, an unthinkable thought not too long ago.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Sergi Roberto, especially with the imminent arrivals of Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal in the January transfer window, along with the ongoing speculation regarding midfield investments. If this turns out to be the peak in his Barcelona career, I for one applaud him for it, football doesn’t always reward the good guys, and Sergi Roberto is one of those. Maybe he’ll earn a call up to the National team, maybe he’ll go on to be the successor to the legendary Iniesta as was touted at a young age, maybe neither will come to fruition. Whatever happens though, Sergi has become part of Barcelona, admired by the fans, proving his class on the biggest stage, succeeding when the majority would have failed.