Football is a game that is played not necessarily with the best eleven available players in every position, but rather the most useful ones. Over the past decade La Masia has been at a drought of players, with a number of those coming up from the B team not necessarily making the cut to be first-team regulars, but having enough of an understanding of their roles and the team’s needs to be integrated into the team with relative ease.
Sergi Roberto falls perfectly into this category. There’s almost nothing about him that is exceptional enough to make him a regular senior squad member, as there one or more players better than him in each of the positions he takes up. Despite this, the Catalan has played an integral part in Barça’s success, and now Oscar Mingueza is following in the same footsteps.
Barça Universal explores the Spaniard’s journey into first-team football, his versatility in the face of adversity, and finally, a possible plan in the future.
A tumultuous start to life as a first-teamer
More often than not, players like Mingueza are discarded long before they even turn 20. The likes of Eric García and Isaac Cuenca flaunt their positional dexterity and stand out defensively despite their age. While the Barca number 28 has his virtues, few, if any, saw him leap a B team in which he served as a fourth choice centre-back, to ever playing in the first team.
With the cruel mistress of fate paying one too many visits in Barça’s dressing room, cursing several key players with lengthy injuries week after week, Barça needed light to shine over their dark season, and at the end of the tunnel was a sporty, enthusiastic Oscar Mingueza.
With Gerard Piqué, Clément Lenglet, and Samuel Umtiti either repeatedly injured or terribly out of form, the Masia youngster took up the reigns at CB alongside Ronald Araujo and has never looked back since. He is admittedly a man with flaws, however, beggars cannot be choosers, and Barcelona were certainly in no position financially or otherwise, to cherry-pick their best players.
Mingueza has offered a whole new dimension to the defence while keeping the core values he learnt from his days at La Masia at heart. He remains a commendable ball-playing centre-back, with many lauding his insane bravery and seemingly innate ability to play out the back. He has had some shockers, such as his games against Cadiz and Athletic Club, however bar that, he barely puts a foot wrong.
On the odd chance, one does get past him, he is more than suited to make a last-ditch tackle for the team’s betterment. This is largely thanks to his large physical build, which, is well-taken advantage of when necessary.
As mentioned before, sometimes, football does not require the best eleven in every position, but rather the best eleven to suit the manager’s vision. Carlos Puyol could be used as an example, not one whose quality is to be lamented about, but one whose versatility and drive to succeed gave him a spot where there ideally would not be any.
At the beginning of his career, he was a right-back, and gradually evolved into his centre-back role, and Oscar Mingueza is experiencing an evolution of the same dimension, however with the roles reversed.
Given Barça’s injury crisis not only in central defence but also at right-back, Oscar Mingueza was required to supplement for an exhausted and injured Sergiño Dest, as well as Sergi Roberto for the better part of one and a half months.
Like he has in central defence, Oscar has once again shown his usefulness in the squad through his differential quality. At right-back, given the fact that it is not his natural position — at least not since he was 11 —, Ronald Koeman has given him an entirely new set of brushes to paint the field with.
Unlike his American counterpart, the Barça number 28 is a far more defensive-minded addition to the right-back role. Rather than spend a majority of the next darting to both ends of the pitch, Oscar offers himself as one of a third centre-back in a makeshift back three while in an attacking phase, or a temporary midfielder in the goal of maintaining possession of the ball. This comes naturally for him, given his background as a La Masia player.
All in all, Mingueza has given a great deal of service for a club who six months ago would never even have fathomed needing him in their setups. His versatility, especially at right-back, is a heaven-sent for the Barca manager, who seems to like the idea of revolving between an inverted fullback and a classical one depending on what is required of them.
Plan going forward
Oscar Mingueza is a man of exceptional character with fervent determination to bring honour to the badge, however, this can only go so far in his case. Barcelona are hot on the trail for Eric García and have been for some months now, and given the fact that Roberto has returned to the squad, it begs the question, what next for the young man?
For this, we have to take a trip down memory lane and look at some wise words by the late Tito Vilanova. Following the 2010/11 campaign, he had this to say:
“We don’t need better players; we need complementary players that help us be better.”Tita Vilanova, 2011
By virtue of his versatility and background as a Barcelona youth ranks graduate, Ronald Koeman could benefit from trying him out as a central defensive midfielder. The idea at first glance seems far fetched, with Miralem Pjanić still in the squad though day by day it seems all the more likely that Ronald Koeman does not fancy him all that much. The Spaniard, though, ticks many of the necessary boxes needed in the central defensive midfield, despite not even playing there yet.
An expert of the all too infamous tactical foul, Oscar Mingueza can hold up this susceptible position in the team, acting as a false centre-back in possession, moving slightly upwards to maintain ball circulation. His passing has already been moulded by the careful hands of the craftsmen at La Masia, and so too his positional sense.
Unlike Sergio Busquets, Mingueza’s background as a centre-back as paired with his athletic build make for a rather decent match, as on occasions where he has been dribbled past, he is quick enough to make up for lost ground, is more than capable of contesting second balls when the need arises and can do the necessary dirty work, intervening where needed through a foul, tackle or interception.
He already shows an immense capacity to grow, the desire to learn and given his duration at the club, he certainly would want to stay here longer. This would mean evolving his game to whatever the manager might require of him, be it as a rotational asset, or a versatile one to maintain relevance in the squad and provide aid wherever deemed necessary.