A comprehensive analysis of La Masía centre-forward Gerard Fernández, or Peque. A review of his profile, style of play and what to expect from him for the long-term.
The shortage of attacking options at Barcelona is not only affecting the first team, but La Masía too. At Barça B, Abel Ruiz and Alejandro Marqués departed in the winter transfer window, Álex Collado has been alternating the senior squad with the reserves, and Hiroki Abe will be sidelined for five months for a ruptured tendon in his right hamstring. Moreover, Rey Manaj, the striker signed for the B, got sent off in only his second game for the blaugranas, while he was called up by Quique Setién to face Getafe.
“He [García Pimienta] gave me some tips and told me to be calm and do what I know best”Gerard Fernández, on the instructions García Pimienta gave him before his debut with Barça B
With all these movements and absences, García Pimienta has also had to make use of the youngsters from a lower category. Over a week, his chosen forward to complete the front three was Gerard Fernández Peque, the protagonist of this week’s La Masía talents.
Gerard Fernández Castellano was born on 4 October 2002, in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a city located just next to Barcelona. When he was a Benjamín, he joined the academy of UE Cornellà, where he won, among other things, the prestigious Danone Nations Cup as an Alevín, in 2014. He was the captain of one of the most successful youth teams in Cornellà when, that same year, he received the call from FC Barcelona, his dream club. Peque, nicknamed like this by his close relatives, was eager to show as a blaugrana the quality he had demonstrated wearing the green colours of his previous side.
However, after just two years at La Masía, Gerard Fernández Peque departed, returning back to where he had played his best football. Far from becoming demoralised for having to leave Barça, the boy returned to Cornellà as a Cadete and displayed an insane level again. In his second spell there, he was the top goalscorer of his team in each of the three campaigns he played for them. In the 18/19 course, in his first year as a Juvenil, he scored 28 goals in the National League. Moreover, as a 16-year-old, he got his debut with Cornellà’s first team in the Copa Federación and also in the Second Division B.
“When you get promoted to a higher category, you really notice it. I experienced it at Cornellà already last year. Getting used to it is not easy, but you have to. You need to adapt as fast as possible to help the team if they need you”GERARD FERNÁNDEZ, after his debut with Barça B
He was one of the sensations of Cornellà that season and, of course, he attracted interest from Barça again. Real Madrid attempted to sign Gerard Fernández too but, in the end, Peque chose to go back to La Masía. His brother Pau Fernández plays for the Alevín A as a goalkeeper, and obviously succeeding at Barcelona has always been Gerard’s dream.
In the summer of 2019, thus, the youngster signed his contract for the culés, in an act alongside directives Silvio Elías and Patrick Kluivert that was nothing more than a formality. He had played some days earlier against Ajax in the friendly and opening game of the Estadi Johan Cruyff. His official debut with the Juvenil A, by then coached by Víctor Valdés, came in September 2014 in a 1–1 draw…at the Municipal de Cornellà. His first appearance for the azulgranas was indeed against his former club.
Gerard Fernández Peque has greatly impressed in his first season back at La Masía | Photo by FC Barcelona
His adaptation to Barça has been very smooth, both in terms of style and inside the dressing room, given that he met again with ex-teammates like Arnau Tenas and Ilaix Moriba, two key figures for Franc Artiga. So much so that, on 9 February 2020, Gerard was handed his debut for Barça B. Due to the absences in attack, he was given a start and took a very deserved opportunity with both hands. Assisted by Collado, Peque scored a delicate chip over the goalkeeper in the 34th minute to tie the match (2–2). Unfortunately, the match ended in a 2–3 victory for Villarreal B.
Even so, it was a day to remember for the striker, who became the ninth Juvenil player to debut at Barça B under García Pimienta: Jandro Orellana, Konrad de la Fuente, Nils Mortimer, Arnau Tenas, Nico González, Ilaix Moriba, Mika Mármol and Antonio Jesús complete the list. In addition, today Gerard has received his first call-up with Spain, the U–18, for a friendly against Denmark next week.
The nickname Peque comes from ‘pequeño’, small in Spanish, and Gerard indeed is a very tiny centre-forward. Therefore, he doesn’t stand out for his physique, his height or his ability to fight with the defenders, but for another far more powerful tool: his intelligence. Gerard Fernández Peque, in spite of having spent only two and a half years at La Masía in total over two spells, clearly fits perfectly into the mould of the prototype Barcelona striker.
“I consider myself a striker that knows how to protect the ball with the back to goal. In spite of being neither too strong nor too big, I have a good game at first touch and inside the area I’m smart and intelligent to search for spaces and score”Gerard Fernández, defining himself
Despite his diminutive body, he is capable of executing with great precision actions that require some friction with the defenders. He often is the smallest player on the pitch, but doesn’t get pushed around and actually can fulfil the tasks of a poaching number 9 when required. The clearest example is the four goals he scored back in November against Stadium Casablanca – three of these were headers. Gerard is small but has a great killer instinct in the box, moving extremely well inside and around it. His excellent positioning makes him be in the right place at the right time and even be a surprisingly good header.
Peque positions himself superbly inside the area while he also works very hard and smartly off the ball. In the pressing, he contributes to closing down spaces and passing lanes to the opposition and is always active to take advantage of any slight mistake from his rivals. Moreover, when his teammates have the ball, he reads to perfection which movements need to be made either to free space for his colleagues, or to get into a shooting position himself. For instance, his first goal with Barça B came after a wonderful diagonal run inside the area when Álex Collado was patiently and delicately waiting for an opportunity to deliver his pass. To exploit a space someone has to occupy them, and Gerard Fernández is fully conscious of this.
While not the tallest, Peque is very intelligent and instinctive inside the box to get at the end of passes and crosses | Photo by FC Barcelona
Furthermore, apart from being tremendously clever, he has a very good technique and finishing. He has scored 18 goals with the Juvenil A this season, clearly the best in the team in this domain. As well as having this faculty to find those pockets of space in the box, he continuously drops deep to get involved in the build-up phase and always looks to set up his teammates. He’s fast and precise in tight spaces, delivering quick lay-offs, offering support for short passes, and detecting any gap between the lines of the opposing defence. His mobility and dynamism at the edge of the box, together with his sensibility in his first touch, is a blessing for Barcelona’s football.
As an all-round attacker with a sharp eye for a goal and even a pass, he has managed to transform his lack of imposing physique into an advantage. If he can’t scare defenders with his body, he will make sure to scare them with his prodigious mind. Agile, skilled and smart: the future looks bright for Gerard.
What does the future hold for Peque?
In 2014, when Gerard Fernández Peque joined La Masía for the first time, SPORT published an article on his arrival entitled ‘an Agüero for Barça’s Infantil’. It was actually his former coach at Cornellà, Luis Galindo, who compared the boy with ‘el Kun’. And actually yes, some could argue that Gerard shares several traits with the Manchester City forward: a diminutive figure with a strong lower body to keep the ball, agility, acceleration, quick feet, tactical intelligence, positioning in the area and incredible work ethic.
That said, there’s still a long way to go for him to reach that level, of course. Going from the Juvenil category to professional football, like the Segunda B, tends to be too big of a leap for many footballers. Marqués and, especially, Abel Ruiz saw that they could no longer make the difference against older and more experienced rivals which they did make at the academy versus players of their age.
Peque‘s debut with the B was very positive, but more than a full season is needed to really show one’s validity. With the absences in the reserves, Gerard should feature with them more often now, and maybe even frequently rotate with Rey Manaj up top. What is clear is that having Franc Artiga and García Pimienta is the best for the development of Gerard Fernández, so his talent is certainly in safe hands as he continues to reach new heights.
Best starting XI of ex-La Masía players
With the once-glorious academy ignored in the last few years, Barça Universal attempts to put together a starting XI of the best ex-La Masia players in the world, based on their ability and form.
FC Barcelona’s fabled La Masía is often regarded as one of the best academies in world football. Having produced players like Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, and Xavi Hernández, to name a few, it’s no question why.
The Blaugrana are in a fortunate spot where they can integrate promising youngsters from their youth teams into their senior squad; however, in recent years, there has been a divergence from this approach. Consequently, Barça have seen their fair share of homegrown starlets slip through the cracks.
In this piece, we at Barça Universal will be forming a starting eleven of the best active ex-La Masía players in the world. Based on their quality and recent performances, these are the best eleven players who either left the Catalan club at a young age or never cemented a place in the first team. We have decided to go through with a 4-2-3-1 formation for the team.
GK: André Onana
Between the sticks, there are few better than André Onana. The Cameroonian international left Barça at 19, and has not looked back since. He’s developed into a premier goalkeeper and has been linked with a move to big clubs all across Europe.
“I think André [Onana] is fantastic. He came to Ajax aged 18 or 19 and the way he developed, and the natural attributes that he already had, his speed, his reaction… I think he set himself as a great goalkeeper.”Edwin van der Sar, 2018
Onana has decisive command of his box, quick reflexes, and is a great shot-stopper. Across 31 appearances last season, he had 11 clean sheets and a formidable 75.5% save percentage. He has also led the Champions League in the last two campaigns with post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed, a stat that measures how well a keeper fares against shots that are expected to go in. He achieved a mark of +4.5, meaning he prevented Ajax from conceding almost five extra goals.
The Catalans would surely regret letting him go if they did not have Marc-André ter Stegen taking charge of the gloves.
RB: Héctor Bellerín
Héctor Bellerín is a clear choice at right-back, edging out the only other realistic option, Real Betis’ Martín Montoya. The Spaniard left Barça in 2011 for Arsenal, after spending 8 years at the club. Although injuries have derailed his recent progress, he’s become a key asset for the Gunners.
Bellerín is quite talented, consistently blistering down the right-hand side with his pace and influencing all aspects of the game. He’s finding his footing after being in and out of the lineup for the last few seasons but already has two assists this campaign. He also earned his first national team call-up since 2016; a positive sign of things to come, maybe.
CB: Eric García
Whether due to his ability or the fact that he left La Masía for a Manchester club, Eric García has been dubbed by some to be the next Gerard Piqué. He spent nine successful years in Barcelona’s academy before joining Manchester City in 2017.
Pep Guardiola wooed Eric Garcia away from Barcelona, and the teenager has proved him right. (Photo via Getty)
Despite being only 19 years old, García plays with poise and composure beyond his years. As a ball-playing defender, he’s comfortable in possession and sharp with his passing, averaging a 96% completion rate last season and 93.8% this season. His high tactical awareness and high-grade positioning make up for lack of aerial prowess.
“He’s so smart, so intelligent. His physicality is not so, so strong, but he resolves the situation by thinking. I like to work with smart people, intelligent people. He is one of them. I can count on him.”Pep Guardiola, 2019
In recent months, García has been linked with a move back to his boyhood club, a testament to his abilities and a sign that Barça repent letting him go. His quality and high-ceiling make him an unquestioned choice at centre-back for this list.
CB: Marc Bartra
The other player in the heart of the defence is Marc Bartra. The 29-year-old could never quite cement a spot in Barça’s first team and was often a backup for Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, and Javier Mascherano. Consequently, he left the club in 2016 for Borussia Dortmund, after making over 100 appearances for the first team and winning 13 trophies.
Like most La Masía-bred defenders, Bartra is lauded for his passing ability. He adds to that with his top-notch aerial ability and solid tackling.
He now finds himself playing in the La Liga with Real Betis, where he’s a key member of their squad, and one of the first names in the list for the Seville outfit. Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of centre-backs to choose from, but Bartra still deserves his spot on this list.
LB: Álex Grimaldo
Rounding out the defence is Álex Grimaldo. He was revered as a youngster, making over 100 appearances for Barça’s B-team, but ended up leaving for Benfica in 2016 in search of more playing time, when that spot became Jordi Alba’s to lose.
Grimaldo is quick, intelligent, a great dribbler, and is a persistent threat going forward, fitting perfectly into Benfica’s expansive, attacking side. Since the 2018-19 season, he has 23 assists and eight goals across all competitions.
“For me, Grimaldo is one of the best five left-backs in Europe. Many Benfica players are ready to, someday, play in a world-class team. Grimaldo is good enough to play for any side right now.”Tiago Pinto (Benfica Sporting Director), 2020
The left-back has quietly developed into one of the best in the world at his position and is certainly someone Barça should wish they could have right now. He’s one of the best players in this list, and his inclusion goes with little to no fuss.
CM: Thiago Alcântara
Thiago: the one that got away. Despite his immense talent, he was unlucky in his first few years at Barça having to find a spot in the first team midfield that was dominated by the likes of prime Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. A certain Cesc Fabregas was left as an outcast in this team; there was only so much Thiago could do. As a result, he left the Catalan giants in the summer of 2013 for Bayern Munich, where he would cement his status as one of the best midfielders in the world.
One that keeps the Barça administration and fans up at night all the same. (Photo via Imago)
The Spanish international is lauded for his technical prowess and intelligence. He’s a great passer, averaging over 89% completion rate for the past four seasons, has fantastic vision and is a treat to the eyes on the ball. He’s not only an ideal Barça midfielder but a world-beater by any metric.
Thiago was a key part of Bayern’s treble-winning side last season and now finds himself at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield. He’s a player Barça should have tried to sign back and will be remembered as one of the best La Masia graduates of the last decade.
CM: Oriol Romeu
Oriol Romeu may not be a familiar name to most, nor is he someone fans are clamouring to have back, but his performances this season for an impressive Southampton have earned him a spot in this XI.
Romeu left the Catalan side in 2011 for Chelsea but struggled to settle anywhere before moving to Southampton in 2015.
The Saints are currently sitting fourth in the Premier League heading into the international break, in no small part thanks to Romeu. He’s played in all eight league games this season and is third in total minutes played for his side. The Spaniard is an anchor in the midfield, aggressive in tackles and inept at stopping plays. He’s leading the Premier League in tackles this season, averaging 4.42 tackles plus interceptions per game.
He’s not what you could call the idea player for Barça or one the club necessarily laments selling, but he has been truly incredible this season and deserves recognition all the same.
RW: Adama Traoré
Adama Traoré followed the path of many before him, leaving the Camp Nou for greener grass. He made his first-team debut at only 17 years old and managed to grab one goal in four appearances, but the front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez would see him get little-to-no playing time.
Culés still remember Adama Traore’s fantastic solo goal in the Copa del Rey. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP)
Traoré settled in at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2018 and has realised his potential there. He had a breakout season last year, with 6 goals and 10 assists, as well as an astounding 5.22 successful dribbles per game — one of the highest in Europe. This season, the Spanish International is leading the Premier League in terms of the number of players dribbled past — 30 in eight matches.
The 24-year-old is a magnificent player. His physical attributes stand out, being one of the strongest and fastest players in the world, and unstoppable at his best; but he’s much more than that. His technical ability and close control are excellent, and that coupled with his physical gifts make him a sight to behold on the pitch.
The Spaniard’s inclusion in this list is fairly straightforward. He’s on a meteoric rise and is the type of squad option Barça wish they could have right now.
CAM: Dani Olmo
Filling in behind the striker is Dani Olmo, yet another starlet Barça that slipped through the cracks. He spent seven years at La Masía before a shocking move to Dinamo Zagreb in 2014, but the decision has fared well for him. He dominated his spell with the Croatian side, tallying 34 goals and 28 assists in 124 appearances.
The 22-year-old is now a squad member at RB Leipzig, where he’s dazzling the Bundesliga with his dribbling, creativity, and vision. He has three assists in seven Bundesliga appearances this season and is only getting better.
Olmo is one of the brightest young Spaniards in the world and is currently in their squad for the international break.
LW: Marc Cucurella
Marc Cucurella never had a chance to prove himself at Barça, and he’s now excelling at Getafe. He was developed as a left-back but has now been successfully converted into a wide midfielder, playing on the left of a 4-4-2, since making a permanent move to the Madrid outfit in July this year.
Cucurella is a work-horse on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he’s a pest who consistently tracks the ball and fights for it, making up for any lack of physical prowess. He’s also great at pressing and tackling for a physical Getafe side, averaging 3.38 tackles and interceptions per game last season.
Offensively, he darts down the left-hand side and utilizes his pace and stamina along with his noteworthy off the ball movement. He had five assists last campaign and will be looking to improve upon that.
Cucurella may not be the flashiest name here, but much like Oriel Romeu, his recent performances are commendable, thus earning him this spot at left-mid.
ST: Mauro Icardi
Rounding out the team is Mauro Icardi, a name some might not recognize as an ex-La Masía player. Although he has off-the-field issues, his sheer talent alone sanctions his spot in this draft. Not to mention, his prolific goalscoring record as well.
The Argentine left the Catalans in 2011 after a brief 3-year stint. After a few seasons in Sampdoria, he moved to Internazionale Milan, where he broke out, gathering 124 goals and 28 assists in 219 appearances. In his current club PSG, the goals have continued raining in as he has scored 22 times in only 38 appearances.
The 2018 Serie A Player of the Year is a classic #9 who prefers to do all his damage in the penalty box. As a forward, he’s lethal in front of goal and always makes the right movements to get into scoring positions.
“In my opinion, Icardi is the second-best striker in the penalty box who I’ve ever marked.”Giorgio Chiellini, 2018
Icardi may not be a player Barça would desperately want to return, give his multiple tantrums or one that fits their style, but he’s the best ex-La Masía striker in the world, and that stands almost without question.
If this starting eleven indicates anything, it’s that Barça should be diverting more attention to La Masía and the gems they produce. Promising youngsters like Grimaldo, Olmo, and Traoré should have never departed without being given ample time to prove themselves, and the club should hope that history doesn’t repeat itself with prospects like Riqui Puig.
There are plenty of good players – Munir El Haddadi, Rafinha Alcântara, Cristian Tello, for instance –who didn’t make this list due to positional constraints or being edged-out by better options, and they serve as a further example of how much talent Barça has let slip through the cracks in recent memory. This is not to say that all La Masía graduates will grow up to reach the heights of Messi or Xavi, but they should all at least have the chance to stake their claim in the first team.