A thorough analysis of La Masía flamboyant winger Ilias Akhomach. A look at his profile, playing style and expectations for the future.
One of the worst things in youth football is putting nicknames to the kids and hoping that they become the like-for-like replacements of their idols. This tends to happen very often in order to make comparisons on the playing style, but can be very detrimental for the boys as it means adding extra pressure on their shoulders. For example, Lionel Messi was once labelled “the new Maradona” as the Argentinian media desperately searched for the heir to the former Napoli legend.
This by no means is something unusual at La Masía either, with the likes of Bojan Krkić and Gerard Deulofeu being called “the new Messi” in the past. This puts the spotlight on 17, 16 or even 15-year-olds, when their evolution would instead be much smoother and more serene with lower expectations and less attention from the general public.
“There won’t be another [Andrés] Iniesta, just like there won’t be another of anyone. My idols were [Pep] Guardiola and [Michael] Laudrup, but I didn’t become them. I made myself who I am. Players with those characteristics will mark history, but we’re all different”Andrés Iniesta
Even if being called ‘the new X’ and being linked to a legend of the game may seem a reason for pride, the footballers themselves often try to avoid such comparisons. Andrés Iniesta once said that he could not be the new Laudrup, as he had to be the first Iniesta instead. Unfortunately, though, these labels have become increasingly common among football fans. What is even more worrying, however, is that someone with a high position in a top club like Barcelona publicly says that he has “the new Messi” under control. Back in November, Barça’s academy director Patrick Kluivert expressed that “in La Masía we already have the new Messi”. Later, Cadena SER revealed that this “new Messi” is Ilias Akhomach.
It is outrageous to even think about that, and it is even more disgraceful to say it openly when you are the head of the entire academy and are supposed to protect and track the development of thousands of talents. That said, the sudden rise in interest in Ilias Akhomach doesn’t come only from Kluivert’s words, but from his incredible evolution in recent months at La Masía. In this article, we will review not the next Messi, but the first Ilias.
Ilias Akhomach Chakkour, of Moroccan family, was born on 16 April 2004 in Igualada, in the province of Barcelona. He began playing football at his hometown club, Hostalets de Pierola, as his passion for the sport was awaken by watching his older brother Anuar play. He was his inspiration. After two years, Barcelona recruited Ilias and added him to the Prebenjamín squad. Now it was Anuar who admired his younger brother and couldn’t miss a single game from him. Nonetheless, in his final year as an Alevín, Ilias Akhomach didn’t make the cut in the leap to 11-a-side football, and he was forced to leave La Masía.
Ilias Akhomach joined La Masía again in 2017 and had a breakthrough season in the 18/19 with the Cadete B | Photo by Ungdoms Fotboll
He did not stop there. He had a lot of quality in his boots and he only had to prove it. For this reason, in 2016 he moved to Nàstic de Tarragona, one of the best teams in Fut-11 in Catalonia. There he stood out greatly. In that campaign with Nàstic’s Infantil B, he was a nightmare for any rival, including Barça, who faced him in several tournaments. In one of these, at the Internacional Carnaval Cup de Argentona, he captured the attention of the blaugranas again.
Jordi Roura was impressed, even if he didn’t recognise him at first. Aureli Altimira did. After that contest, those in charge of La Masía admitted their error to the family of Ilias Akhomach. They offered him a long-term contract, but the rising star already had many offers, including from Real Madrid. Even so, Ilias was not resentful and decided to return to Barcelona, the best place to continue with his development.
In 2017 he moved to Barça’s Infantil A. His adaptation was very fluid, both on and off the pitch, and little by little he started to make a name for himself in the academy. Now, at Sergi Milà’s Cadete A, he has continued to be one of their main figures in another great generation in the making. Ilias will soon be turning 16, so the technical secretary is already looking to offer him his first professional contract. According to reports, the renewal negotiations for Ilias and also Pablo Páez are already underway. Two gems for the culés who have obviously attracted great interest from foreign clubs, but Barcelona must look to renew them no matter what. Besides, at international level, Akhomach holds the dual Moroccan and Spanish citizenships, but he has lately been playing for Spain’s U-16. For club and country, Ilias is progressing at an impressive pace.
Ilias Akhomach certainly is one of the most promising footballers at La Masía at present. Being left-footed, he can act as a right winger, attacking midfielder or forward. Actually, a week ago he even played as a false 9 and scored two goals, including a wonderful long shot, in a 2–2 away draw against CE Europa, which unfortunately ended the Cadete A’s flawless run. Notwithstanding, while he can be deployed as a mediapunta, he is not the same type of player as Brian Peña. Ilias is more electric and direct, a priori making him ideal for the right-wing role.
The 2004 age group is one of the brightest crops of talent at Barcelona’s academy | Photo by FC Barcelona
Ilias is a dribbling expert. Whether through the wing or in the middle, he continuously causes headaches to his rivals. A specialist in tricking defences and wreaking havoc on them, he is unstoppable when he has the ball at his feet and is at full speed. He has a wonderful technique which he combines with his ruthlessness, audacity and imagination. He’s a magical and tricky forward-thinking player, with a one-one-one within reach of very few. He moves past opponents very easily, almost effortlessly. His natural ability to glide through defenders with elegance and unpredictability make of Ilias Akhomach one of the most fun prospects to watch at La Masía.
The 2004 generation unquestionably is a golden one at the academy. Pablo Páez Gavi, Diego Almeida, Arnau Casas, Marc Jurado, Biel Vicens, Ángel Alarcón, Antonio Caravaca, Xavier Planas, Aleix Garrido…Nevertheless, it used to lack someone with the talent to imbalance defences and add dynamism in the final third. Ilias, with his brutal capacity to assist and create chances out of nowhere, has provided just that.
What does the future hold for Ilias Akhomach?
A case could be made that 12-year-old Lamine Yamal and Ilias have fairly similar profiles. Both of Moroccan origin, they are two left-footed mobile, energetic and hugely influential footballers for their respective teams. And, of course, they are two of the brightest gems at the academy. That said, Lamine is quite younger and is still adapting to 11-a-side football. Ilias Akhomach, though, is also still very young, in spite of having showcased a frightening potential at La Masía. It surely is worth keeping an eye on him, both because he is extremely entertaining to watch, and because his ceiling is high enough to leave his mark at Barcelona. Still, it is way too early to tell, and with the ‘new Ilias’, like with any other prospect, a lot of calmness and responsibility is required – something which Patrick Kluivert did not have.
Barcelona B: Changes which we can expect this season
For Barcelona, its youth setup – Barcelona B, and the famed La Masia – has often served as one of its core components, and not a subsidiary, like a lot of clubs around Europe. It has often been the first step for players before they join the first team, learning the ways and about the heritage of the club.
Currently, a part of the Segunda B, Barcelona B were in the Segunda not more than two years ago and failed to gain promotion last season after coming oh-so-close. As another season starts, Barcelona B must balance their success on the pitch and the development of youth players simultaneously. Barca Universal takes a look at the changes we can expect from them this season.
Barcelona B must, without compromise, involve new players from the youth teams every season as much as possible. This is best showcased by Garcia Pimienta, who uses the youth teams to bolster his squad. Similarly, there are some specific players we can expect to see this season.
Against Cornella, Cadete A player Ilias Akhomach debuted for Barca B and played an entire half. At just 16 years of age, he probably won’t get a lot of chances, but if he does, we can count on him to repay the manager. The winger who has grown meteorically through the youth ranks of the Catalan club in rapid succession looked comfortable playing against much older players in the Segunda. He’s someone who could make an impact this season.
At left-back, Barcelona has a player who has progressed immensely. Alejandro Balde has played above his age group for a long time, and his development has been incredible. At 17, he is a starter for the B team and is among the players who can definitely contest for the first-team in the future. Balde is good both defensively and offensively – his pace, dribbling combined with his tracking-tackling skills makes him a capable asset down the wing.
Apart from these two, we might see attacking midfielder Brian Pena and defensive midfielder Alex Rico. Towards the end of the season, Diego Almeida, Txus Alba, Gavi might be given their debuts as well as part of an up-and-coming generation coming through.
This is a change seen in subsidiary teams such as the B team usually when there is an adjustment in the tactics for the first team. Since the team has a new manager in Ronald Koeman, the tactics are rather fresh as well. Under Setien, a 4-3-3 formation was the preferred choice, whereas under Koeman it is a 4-2-3-1. Though Barcelona played a 4-4-2 under Valverde, the B team continued in a 4-3-3. The shift to a 4-2-3-1, however, is quite less, compared to a 4-4-2.
Koeman has brought with him a plethora of changes, the major one being the team setup. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)
The second team’s sole purpose is to facilitate for the first team, which remains the priority this season as well. It just so happens that the Spaniard has three remarkable players at his disposal who can play in a double-pivot and can soon step-up to the first team – Nico Gonzalez, Jandro Orellana and Oriol Busquets. Implementing a double pivot with these players would also benefit the rest of the players. Matheus Fernandes or Alex Collado could play in the number 10 role where they can excel. Additionally, there is an interesting option in the form of Brian Pena whose style resembles Philippe Coutinho’s, could get to feature for the B team in the mediapunta role. In turn, Hiroki Abe, Ilias Akhomach, Nils Moreno, among others could play feature on the wing.
Formation changes for Barcelona B would not only help the players transition from the B team to the first team but will also improve their tactical flexibility. One of the biggest advantages of playing in a 4-2-3-1, however, leads us to our next change.
Barcelona have produced many incredible number 9s in history as well as recently. However, there has been something about the 4-3-3 system which hasn’t suited these talents – for example, Abel Ruiz. An undisputed starter for Spain’s youth sides, he was benched by Alejandro Marquez in some instances owing to his failure to rack up goals for the B team.
Abel Ruiz failed to live up to his own prophecy. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
A very promising striker coming through is Gerard Fernandez, or Peque, as he is called. Playing a 4-2-3-1 system would bring out the best in him. As a forward who is incredible at pressing the defence, he would get that freedom in a 4-2-3-1. Another one of his strong attributes is his ability to link-up very well with his teammates. With a no. 10 behind him and a winger on either side, he would get the opportunity to further develop his anchor play.
The problem Barca B have had with the number 9 role is one that could make the difference between reaching the playoffs like last season and earning promotion to the Segunda A.
Barcelona B are a very dynamic team. There are always multiple changes in multiple positions due to the nature of the team. A manager focused on developing youth, Garcia Pimienta has made sure they are a very capable collective as well. With the changes we examined in this article, Barcelona B could top last season’s playoffs and finally get promotion to the Segunda A. And if not that, we can be sure that they will continue to roll out incredible players that will become Barcelona stars one day.