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Pau Cubarsi: The rise of Barcelona’s latest academy gem

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Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

As long as La Masia lives, Barcelona will breathe with vitality. The pulse of the club may waver every now and then, with its rhythm unpredictable and untamed.

But when tensions rise highest and the threat of a cardiac arrest looms large, talents emerging from La Masia invariably serve as a lifeline.

Now, stabilising those irregular heartbeats and guiding the team’s rhythm back to an assuring cadence, Pau Cubarsi is one of the latest lifeboats to save Barça from stormy waters.

The ascension

Following his transition from Girona’s youth setup, Cubarsi joined Barcelona’s academy in 2018. After making quick progress through the minor divisions, Xavi called up the youngster to train with the first team in April of last year.

Having long been hailed for possessing a talent that belies his years, Cubarsi’s name being etched in the squad list as the season progressed became a recurring theme. But it was at the turn of the year that his contributions especially exploded.

Indeed, at just 16 years of age, the Barça starlet made his debut in the Copa del Rey against Unionistas de Salamanca. Before turning 17, he made his La Liga debut against Real Betis.

Despite playing against players twice his age and seasoned veterans, Cubarsi hardly appeared out of place.

After a terrific display against Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey, which Barcelona were unfortunate to lose, Xavi knew Cubarsi’s talents could no longer be swept under the rug.

The Spanish jewel seamlessly slotted into the backline, masking the collective adversity Barcelona were enduring. As such, solid exhibitions in quick succession earned him a regular spot in the starting XI.

Although Cubarsi’s inexperience led to his being benched in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie, there was an upsurge in both maturity and confidence in the three games that followed.

Barcelona kept clean sheets against Getafe, Athletic Club, and Mallorca, and Cubarsi’s poise at the back had a lot to do with it.

Such immense aptitude eventually culminated in a Champions League start for the young sensation against Napoli, who had gone from playing against his age-mates to suddenly locking horns with Victor Osimhen in the space of just a few months.

Cubarsi pocketed Osimhen on his UCL debut. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

This time last year, Cubarsi was dealing with players from Juvenil A, but Barcelona’s longstanding tradition of developing youngsters, paired with his unconcealable talents, saw him placed in the hot seat at the tender age of 17.

Passing the test with flying colors, the teenage star’s Champions League debut left a lasting impact on onlookers who were witness to a mere teenager bossing it against the reigning Serie A champions.

Indeed, he was heralded as the man of the match and turned out to be the main protagonist in defence, finally putting a halt to the countless defensive blunders the Blaugranes have suffered over the years in this stage of European competitions.

The statistics bore testament to his talents. Cubarsi finished with 80 touches, a 90% passing success rate, nine accurate long balls, and five ball recoveries. Furthermore, he won all six of his aerial and ground duels.

A star in the making

The moment Cubarsi marched into the lineup, his ball distribution stood out remarkably. His strengths were best encapsulated against Getafe, which Barcelona won with a whopping score of 4-0.

While distributing the ball, Cubarsi took the initiative to break lines and exploit spaces Getafe were leaving behind, despite their forwards pressing high and aiming to force a blunder.

One of the reasons Cubarsi thrives at breaking lines is because of his preparation before he receives the ball. The youngster disguises his intentions perfectly by backpedaling to achieve space and calmly creating his angles via excellent body orientation.

Cubarsi’s ball-playing abilities are a standout feature. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Recognition from Xavi, who many consider to be the greatest passer in the history of the sport, serves as undeniable evidence of his abilities: “Pau Cubarsi is the best ball-playing defender we have. It’s spectacular to watch him play, and he’s only 17 years old.”

Shedding light on his defensive fundamentals, though, the list of appreciation he warrants only rises.

Cubarsi technically positions himself when defending, maintaining a disciplined stance and effectively covering his designated area. He covers his area neatly, and his body language in 1 vs. 1 scenarios is mostly flawless.

Contrary to many up-and-coming center-backs his age, the Spaniard does not react rashly in a ground duel. He decelerates and patiently evaluates his options before lunging into a tackle.

In the encounter with Napoli, he was not only a breath of fresh air playing out from the back; but also managed to keep Osimhen at bay for the entirety of the game.

Such salient strides over the past few weeks have seen Cubarsi earn the respect of all. His maturity commands a lot of respect in the Barcelona camp, while the youngster’s humility off-field only adds to the acclaim he garners from his peers.

Cubarsi is the first advantage and generates successive advantages in the build-up. Barça are blessed to have him within their ranks, but ensuring he is not used like a bar of soap will be equally essential.

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