As the referee blew for full time on Wednesday against Ferencvaros, there was a sense of pride with a slight tinge of surprise. Three clean sheets in three games since the sore 1-0 loss to title challenger’s Atletico de Madrid, and 10 goals scored. 21-year-old Oscar Mingueza has been at the very centre of this run.
There was one question on many Blaugrana minds — why was this youngster kept on the periphery all this while? Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran once said, “Perhaps time’s definition of coal is a diamond.” It is this very thought that is to be kept in mind with Mingueza.
Born in Santa Perpetua de Mogoda, Mingueza has always been close to Barcelona and has been a lifelong fan. He has represented Barcelona right from the U7 teams to the Barcelona B team, and only recently, the senior team — something only Marti Riverola, Carles Aleña, and Sergi Samper have done before him.
Having seen the tall youngster play over the last few games, it would be astonishing for anyone to know that he has never represented Spain at any level. Sometimes the talent is very natural and obvious, think Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati, or Ilaix Moriba, whose names have been doing the rounds for a couple of years now. But on rare occasions, a diamond is born out of pressure and necessity and not out of luxury.
Mingueza displayed maturity beyond his years as he dawned the Barcelona colours for the senior team for the first time. (Photo by Attila Kisbenedek/Getty)
When Gerard Pique’s injury news came to the fore, it arrived with a sense of disdain, given the lack of options in the first team. It meant Ronald Koeman would have to look towards the academy for a youngster to fill in or play a senior squad player, probably Frenkie de Jong, out of position.
Koeman going for the former option is no surprise considering his trust in youngsters like Pedri and Fati paying off so far and his insistence on playing de Jong in his natural role. So it was out of absolute necessity that the Dutchman looked towards Barcelona B’s Oscar Mingueza: a player that wasn’t really touched upon as one of the La Masia graduates to make a mark this season.
While many eyes looked towards potential centre-backs to sign in the January window, Oscar Mingueza clearly had no intention to let the chance he finally got go to waste. On his debut, he put in a man of the match performance against Dynamo Kyiv. The youngster made one blocked shot, six interceptions and won 100% of all his duels. For further context, Gerard Pique blocked no shots, made one interception and won only 33% of his duels against the same opposition a week earlier.
Additionally, Mingueza possessed a big threat in the box from set-pieces, assisting Martin Braithwaite from one such corner. He looked confident and at ease, unafraid to try risky passes and switches over the top, and in spite of this he had a 92% pass accuracy.
His leadership qualities were very apparent, as he did not shy away from leading the line for the club, and was vocal throughout the process. While he was one of the four captains of Barcelona’s B side, it is still very commendable that he continued to assert himself and was vocal even alongside his senior teammates.
While his debut was excellent, fans still had doubts, which came back to haunt them when the youngster cost his team a goal against Cadiz. However, Mingueza kept his head above water for rest of the 40 minutes after that goal against Cadiz. He won five turnovers through pressures, and displayed his sublime ability on the ball, carrying it over 117 yards, as much as he did vs Dynamo Kyiv in 90 minutes.
Mingueza kept a level head after the mistake against Cadiz, and put in a shift in defence. (Photo via Imago)
Additionally, he took incentive when Barcelona attacked, going into the opposition penalty box on several occasions, and touching the ball seven times in the attacking third, of which two came from winning possession in that area.
His confidence seems to be unwavering and his aerial presence is something Barcelona would have missed with Pique out for long. He is not the quickest player but he makes up for it with his smart positioning, strength and physicality, making it difficult for opponents to win duels with him.
He does lose possession more often than senior centre-backs Clement Lenglet and Pique, losing possession 6 times a game on an average over three games, it is because he tries to be more aggressive with the ball, and does not look for safe passes unless necessary.
In his three matches, Mingueza averages five interceptions per game, 1.5 tackles per game and is averaging 2.5 duels won per game. His statistics and playing style is not unlike a certain Sergio Ramos, who he could potentially look towards as not just a rival but as someone who has made the Spanish and Real Madrid centre-back spot his own for more than a decade, all whilst being a very vocal expressive captain.
The sample size is, of course, petite, but the potential that Mingueza has presented in this duration is tremendous. Barcelona have long ached for a capable player who can step up in Pique’s stead, and in Mingueza, Koeman might have found something to work with.
Mingueza’s performances once again raise the question of Blaugrana managers feigning ignorance when it comes to La Masia graduates. Managers have looked to get established players, often citing a lack of quality among youth ranks, but it is once again clear that it is not a lack of quality but a lack of trust.
Mingueza is of course not a guaranteed solution to Barcelona’s defensive issues — the edges are still jagged and sharp on this diamond, but time and experience can definitely smooth those out. It is time Barcelona rethinks its strategy and looks towards the ‘coals’ it has as potential diamonds.
Statistics from FBref.
Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time
Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.
But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.
Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.
So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.
However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.
The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.
This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.
Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.
But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.
The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.
We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.
So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.
But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.
Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.
And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.
Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.
So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.
Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.
But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.
In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.
But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.
Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.