Manchester City pulled off quite a coup on Tuesday when they signed 14-year-old Brahim Abdelkader from Malaga because he has been talked about in Spain as the new Lionel Messi. And much of that talk has come from people at Barcelona who remember the Argentine arriving in Catalonia at a similar age.
Barcelona scouts, who have watched Abdelkader’s progress over the last two years and tried and failed to bring him to Barça, believe he has the same quick feet, speed of movement and close control as Messi at that age but displays more leadership and personality.
He takes corners from the right with his left foot and corners from the left with his right foot. He can play as a striker, off the striker, either side of the striker or in midfield. And he has been playing with players three years older than himself in the youth categories at Malaga.
If Barcelona’s attempts to sign him are a reliable gauge, this is not a shot in the dark by City but a coup. They were not the only Premier League club who wanted the teenager but perhaps most significantly they beat Barça to the punch.
The boy had been taken on a trip to the Nou Camp and introduced to Messi and the rest of the players. But Malaga were unhappy with the manner in which Barça tried to sign him. In May 2011 a lunch between directors of Malaga and Barcelona ahead of an end-of-season La Liga meeting between the two clubs was cancelled because of ill-feeling over Barça’s pursuit.
Enter Manchester City, a club now run by former Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain. Brahim’s family were convinced by the plans for City’s new training complex and that magic, and still occasionally derided, word “project”. City will pay no more than the €300,000 compensation stipulated by Fifa to Malaga when the player turns 16.
Abdelkader wanted to stay at Malaga but the move abroad will be made easier by having mum, dad and his three brothers with him. They are all due to arrive in England next week. The prodigy already speaks English after attending an English school in Malaga. He will train with City and be schooled by the club – just as Messi was at Barcelona when he joined as a 13-year-old from Rosario. It is a victory for the Premier League over La Liga, but what does it do for English football?
Youth academies flooded by foreign youngsters remain an obstacle in the Football Association’s attempts to give the England team a greater pool of talent to pick from.
Brahim’s father is of Moroccan descent and his mother is Spanish. As things stand he wants to play for Spain. But if he spends five years in Manchester and becomes the 19-year-old sensation City believe he will, he will qualify for England under residency rules and it will be down to him to choose.
Barça look to be living on borrowed time after the saga of Song’s boots
Barcelona’s Champions League defeat to Ajax in Amsterdam last week was one of the club’s worst performances in Europe in recent memory but a story published by the paper closest to the club, Diario Sport, also spoke about the state of the Spanish champions off the pitch as well.
Sport reported that Alex Song had worn a pair of boots during the match that were a size too big and borrowed from Sergi Busquets because Song had given his boots away to celebrating supporters in Cameroon after he helped the country beat Tunisia in the World Cup play-offs to reach next summer’s finals in Brazil.
His new boots had not arrived in time for the Ajax game and he ended up wearing Busquet’s second pair.
With the margins ever smaller in terms of who wins and who loses and with something to gain from every match – Uefa prize money was at stake for Barça, even though they had already qualified for the knockout stage – it seems difficult to fathom how such a Sunday League scenario might have taken place in the Champions League and from a club that have won the competition three times in the last 10 years.
Barcelona have dominated possession less this season than in recent campaigns. Statistics published this week suggest they average 66 per cent as opposed to 72 per cent in Pep Guardiola’s last campaign. But somehow Song’s boots story says as much about how things have changed than any passing statistics.
The midfielder is not the reason why they were beaten by Ajax, but the fading of that ultra-professionalism and attention to detail under Guardiola may have a lot to do with the sense that this Barcelona team is not what it once was.
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