FootballINDEX Futures

FootballINDEX Blog: Six Spanish Youngsters To Watch

La Liga is bursting with young Spanish talent and it proved a difficult job to choose just 6 players to watch but I did just that. Read on to discover my choices.
Ferran Torres (£1.57, here)
With just about every club in Europe including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool looking to steal Ferran Torres away from Valencia, this April saw the club sign the 18-year-old to a new deal until 2012 with a buyout clause of €100m.
With all potential predators suitably discouraged, Torres broke into the first team squad of the club where the young midfielder/winger has spent his entire footballing career from the age of six.
He made his La Liga debut on 16 December, playing the last nine minutes in a 1–2 loss at SD Eibar.
He has also represented his country at Under 17 level 24 times and made five appearances for the Under 19s.
There is plenty of competition for his place on the right wing or on the right-hand side of midfield with players like Carlos Soler, Guedes and Cheryshev but there are still many in Valencia that believe he should be in the starting XI.
Many believe he would benefit from more playing time and there was talk of a loan deal to Real Sociedad although Marcelino rejected the idea and has made it more than clear that the youngster is very much part of his future plans.
He has also grabbed the attention of UEFA who have included him in their list of the 50 young stars to follow this season.
Abel Ruiz (£1.98, here)
Valenciano from the small town of Almussafes, Abel started with Valencia before joining the Barcelona Academy as a 12-year-old
An old-fashioned number he plays in a similar style to Robert Lewandowski and has also been compared to a young Marco Van 
According to Diario Sport, he has already attracted the attention of a number of Premier League clubs including Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City.
In fact, he is so highly rated by the club, that in June when he extended his contract for a further three seasons with an optional two more, they also included a staggering 100m€ buyout clause. This is in place to deter any bids to entice him away from the Camp Nou.
An elegant centre-forward with a nose for goal, Ruiz has a physical presence as he is 1.82m tall but he can also play on the wing. “I’m a more direct player, a good finisher,” he told Diario Sport earlier this year when asked to explain his style. “I hold the ball well with my back to goal and I consider myself a complete forward.
He is the top goalscorer in the history of the Spain under-17 team on 27 goals and is also its most-capped player with 37 appearances. He is also the top goalscorer in the history of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals: 8 goals (shared with Amine Gouiri and Odsonne Edouard) and the top goalscorer in the history of UEFA European Under-17 Championship on 16 goals (shared with José Gomes)
Carles Alena (£2.21, here)
Already a member of the first team squad he is, to many, the answer to Barcelona’s search for a long-term midfield influence following on from the likes of Iniesta and Xavi.
Although hampered by injuries, he is now back to full fitness and is expected to feature in the first team at some point in the season. If he does he will be the first player from La Masia since Sergi Roberto to nail down a place in the first team.
A left-footed midfielder who is an excellent striker of the ball, Carles Aleñá has been an FC Barcelona player since the age of eight. His natural ability has seen him rise quickly through the youth teams to reach Barça B. When he was a still officially an U19A player, he was already a fixture in the B squad.
Aleñá is a different kind of midfielder. With a great left foot, he is strong and not afraid to take players on. Furthermore, he is not afraid to come inside and use his technical ability to shoot from outside the box
On 30 November 2016 he made his debut for Luis Enrique’s first team in the Copa del Rey tie away at Hércules which ended 1-1. The midfielder from Mataró scored Barça’s only goal of the game with an excellent effort from outside the box.
On 6 September 2017, Aleñá signed a contract extension with FC Barcelona for the next three seasons with a buyout clause of 75m€.
Fran Beltran (£1.45, here)  
Born in Sesena in the South of Madrid, Fran Beltran is generally regarded as one of the hottest young prospects in La Liga
Aged just 19 he was on Getafe’s Academy, he joined Rayo Vallecano’s set up aged 14 and played in their reserves in the third division when he was just 16.
He signed a five year deal with Celta Vigo in August of this year after they paid his  €8m buyout clause. While Celta were ecstatic about having signed him Rayo were less than impressed about how things panned out, claiming that while things may have been done legally, morally Celta had been found wanting in their handling of the deal.
Celta meanwhile couldn’t have cared less claiming in a press release that they had signed him because he was, “a talented player who shows great physical fitness, defensive strength and ball-winning qualities and brilliant intelligence with his control and distribution of the ball.”
He made his debut in the Primera Liga on 18 August, starting in a 1–1 home draw against RCD Espanyol.
Since then he has been an automatic starter in all but one of the league games this season when he came on from the bench. He previously made his debut with Rayo at just 17 and made 71 appearances for them between 2016-18 and he has already represented his country at Under 17, 18 and 19 level.
Achraf Hakimi (£1.86, here)
Achraf Hakimi has much in common with Dani Carvajal and not just because they are both Real Madrid players who play as right backs.
The 19-year-old Hakimi is currently the right back of preference at high-flying Borussia Dortmund who are taking the Bundesliga by storm and where the Madrid born Moroccan International is on a two-year loan deal.
It was only after taking the advice of Carvajal who had previously been on loan at Bayer Leverkusen that he opted to go to the Bundesliga and so far it is proving to be a very wise decision.
He had already made his debut for the Real Madrid first team and with regular first-team options limited in the coming season it suited all parties that he should improve as a player at the highest level possible
“I had a lot of offers, but Dortmund’s was the one that had me convinced,” Hakimi said. “The team likes to play very attractive football and they try to make young players better. I had Carvajal in front of me at Real, but he told me to make the most of the opportunity: go there, play and enjoy it.”
“He’s playing so well,” said Dortmund head coach Lucien Favre. “He’s great going forward and he does a good job at the back. He played at left-back for Morocco, but prefers to play at right-back. He has so much potential.”
So much so in fact that his performances have earned him the right-back berth ahead of the established Dortmund legend, Polish defender, Lukasz Piszcek.
In addition to his club football he has already represented Morocco 19 times as a full international making his debut when aged just 16.
Marc Roca (£1.23, here)
These are truly heady days at Espanyol who find themselves after eight La Liga games in fifth place, separated from a fourth-placed Real Madrid by virtue of just one goal fewer scored.
An ever-present in the starting line up this season central midfielder Marc Roca, a product of the Espanyol academy that he joined as an 11-year-old back in 2008.
New Espanyol coach, Joan Francesc Ferrer ‘Rubi’, has placed his faith in Roca in the vital pivot role linking defence and midfield and the young Catalan has rewarded him by taking to the role like a duck to water.
Although it was the previous coach, Quique Sanchez Flores that gave him his chance in the first team, he spent most of his time on the bench and played just 100 minutes all season.
Now almost certainly one of the first names on Rubi’s teamsheet, much of Espanyol’s early form has been attributed to Roca’s great start to the season and he has been rewarded with a call-up for Spain’s under 21 side for both of their forthcoming qualification games for the European Championships.
He previously came onto the radar of various Premier League club including Liverpool and Southampton and Espanyol’s recent run of good form will once again push the 21-year-old defensive midfielder right back into the spotlight.
Any attempts to lure the central midfielder away from will come at a much higher price now however following his signing of a contract extension that should keep him at the club until 2022 and includes a buyout clause of €40m.
All of these players and more are available to trade on Football Index here:
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Guillem Balague column: ‘Barcelona have problems, but Tottenham should be wary’


Guillem Balague will be writing a regular column throughout the season and also appearing every Thursday on BBC Radio 5 live’s Football Daily podcast, when the focus will be on European football.

You can download the latest Football Daily podcast here.

Few people know better than Mauricio Pochettino that there is never a ‘good’ time to face Barcelona.

Even so, the Catalans’ current form suggests the timing of Wednesday’s Champions League group match is as good as it’s ever going to get for the Tottenham boss.

After just seven La Liga games, Barcelona have already dropped seven points. They had only dropped six by the halfway point last season.

They are without a win in three matches. A defeat at lowly Leganes a week ago was followed by a tame home draw against Athletic on Saturday.

What’s going wrong at Barcelona?

Two points out of a possible nine in the league and eight goals conceded in their past seven games suggests a vulnerable team way short of their best form.

Much has been made of uncharacteristic mistakes by centre-back Gerard Pique, with three errors in recent games leading directly to opposition goals. But while he certainly needs to improve his intensity and concentration, Barca’s problems go a lot deeper than that.

They are struggling to maintain pressure high up the pitch, and with Ivan Rakitic playing in a more advanced role, the pivotal Sergio Busquets is cutting an isolated figure further back in midfield.

And there is a deeper problem. Too often this season their attacks have been more individual than collective and sometimes too direct. When Barcelona attack as a unit they defend as one as well – but right now, when they lose the ball, there are often big gaps between defence and midfield. Opponents have been exploiting this space.

There is also a lack of strength in depth, with a second string not of the required standard and not making a sufficient impact. OK, trying to fill the boots of the likes of Lionel Messi and Busquets is probably the toughest gig in world football, but, even so, Barca have certainly spent big to bolster their squad.

Philippe Coutinho, bought from Liverpool for £142m in January, works wells enough in an attacking role, but the club’s midfielders require a more patient ball distribution and the Brazilian’s defensive work needs to improve.

Ousmane Dembele, who joined from Dortmund for £135.5m in August 2017, is not settling in as well as he could. The France forward is struggling with the language, is shy and surrounded by his own people all the time. He was certainly not helped by the bad injury he suffered at the beginning of his Barcelona career.

To his credit, he has scored five goals so far this campaign, but he does not understand enough of the Barca style to help the fluidity of the game or to take the right decisions at key moments.

Malcom, Arturo Vidal, Arthur and Clement Lenglet – all arrived in the summer; all remain on the periphery.

At the same stage of last season Barcelona had seven successive league victories and had conceded just twice. True, they are top of the league on 14 points – but that is the lowest number to head the table at this stage for 25 years.

The next five games for Barca will probably go a long way to defining their season: away to Tottenham and Valencia and then at home against Sevilla, Inter and Real Madrid.

Will Pochettino end up at Barcelona?

Pochettino managed Barcelona-based Espanyol from 2009 to 2012, before moving to Southampton and was a player for them before that.

The Argentine knows Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu socially and the two men were spotted in the same restaurant in the city last year – which set a lot of tongues wagging.

The Barcelona president has known Pochettino for more than a decade and their kids have gone to the same school. Bartomeu has numerous business interests and partly helped to redevelop the harbour in Southampton when Pochettino was in charge there.

And it is true that when the Pochettino family look for a rest from their busy schedule it is Barcelona where they feel they have their European roots.

But Pochettino would no more manage Barca than he would contemplate joining Tottenham’s north London rivals Arsenal.

And anyone thinking that current boss Ernesto Valverde is in danger of losing his job might be a little hasty.

A couple of recent briefings from the club have led the local media to wonder whether the board are 100% convinced – even though the official line is that the Spaniard is the right man to lead the team.

He has been accused of being too conservative with substitutions, of not getting the best out of the new players, of not rotating enough in the first few games – and now of rotating too much.

And the humiliating quarter-final defeat by Roma in last season’s Champions League – losing 3-0 away after a 4-1 win at home – is a stick constantly used to beat him with.

But Messi, now the captain, has positioned himself very much on Valverde’s side. After Saturday’s disappointing 1-1 home draw with Athletic Bilbao, the manager used strong words with his players and had the backing of his skipper.

Champions league the number one priority

Winning the Champions League once in the past seven years is bad enough, but the fact Real Madrid have won it four times in the past five seasons has made that immeasurably worse.

Even before a La Liga ball had been kicked this season, Messi made his feelings clear when he said the club would “do everything possible” to bring the Champions League trophy back to Barcelona.

“Last season was very good because we won the cup and La Liga, but the Champions League sticks in our throat, especially given the way we were eliminated,” the 31-year-old Argentina forward added.

Messi, a Champions League winner in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015, is not the only one desperate for success in the competition this season. It matters in the boardroom too.

The Champions League isn’t just about the glory, but also very much about the money.

The club expect to generate income of 960m euros (£855m) this season, but more than half of their budget is wages. The Champions League is vital to keep the money rolling in to meet this staggering and ever increasing bill, as well as to attract the type of players needed to win it.

So, although Barca are going through a difficult phase, I would urge caution for any Spurs fans predicting anything other than a very tough test on the wide open spaces at Wembley.

Ultimately, this season Barcelona and Valverde will be judged by what they achieve in the Champions League – and their first XI, fully focused and determined, remain a match for any team.


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Guillem Balague: Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs

OK, OK, we were secretly hoping that FootballINDEX‘s latest recruit, Guillem Balague would make an appearance at the London Trader meet last Friday but unfortunately this was not to be the case.

Guillem is going to be a great addition to the FI family. The man boasts 1M+ followers on Twitter and it’s hardly surprising given he is an incredibly popular and talented football journalist and pundit. Guillem is a regular on SkySports Revista de la Liga and has also written for some of Britain’s top newspapers as well as several Spanish newspapers.

Guillem has recently written the Sunday Times Best Selling Book “Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs” which is a truly fascinating read. Balagué was granted unprecedented access to Pochettino and his backroom staff for the duration of the 2016-17 season, and was therefore able to draw on extensive interview material with Pochettino, his family, his closest assistants, players such as Dele Alli and Harry Kane, and even a very rare conversation with Daniel Levy to tell the manager’s story in his own words. From Pochettino’s early years as a player and coach to his transformation of Tottenham into one of the best teams in England, the book uniquely reveals the inner workings of the man and of his footballing philosophy. It also lays bare what it takes to run a modern-day football team competing at the highest level over the course of a single campaign. The result is the most comprehensive and compelling portrait of a manager and of a club in the Premier League era.

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