Over the years, Barcelona’s prestigious academy has produced several promising talents. One of them being Eric García, who has spent four years developing under Pep Guardiola. With the early signs showing immense prospect, could a return of Eric García be the permanent solution to the defensive requirements of Barcelona?
When you see a youngster massively respected and appreciated by one of the most decorated managers in the footballing world, then there’s something special there. Pep Guardiola, who is loved and revered by the Barcelona enthusiasts across the globe, has shown immense faith in 19-year-old centre-back Eric García. The teenager is said to have a prodigal understanding of the game. He has harnessed his abilities under Pep since 2017.
Although the opportunities have been slim, the development under the Spanish tactician is being monitored by Barcelona. The world is aware of how Guardiola deals with upcoming talents. He makes them understand the need to be patient while simultaneously providing insightful tidbits as and when required. His famous arm around the shoulder treatment has been received well by several youngsters who enjoy working with him.
“Eric is a guy who likes to know the reason why. He is a guy who, if he makes a mistake, he quickly understands why. Sergio Busquets was like that when he was young”
Pep Guardiola on Eric García
In addition to midfield gem Phil Foden, Guardiola has been closely paying attention to the growth of Eric García. He has been giving both youngsters more opportunities since the restart, as the Premier League is pretty much done and dusted with Liverpool already crowned champions. The fans have been showering immense praise on Foden and García for how they have seized the moment to showcase their talents. With Barcelona keen on signing Eric and bringing him back to the Camp Nou, the expectations over the teenager have skyrocketed.
Why Eric García?
For starters, excitement is the first thing that signing the Spanish Under–21 international would bring. Every single club’s fans enjoy watching a youngster flourishing in their first-team. The Catalans have seen the rise of Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig, which have risen the expectations on what the academy can provide. Bringing in Eric García would be another youthful addition to an ageing squad. With a majority of the first teamers in their thirties, adding a teenager to the mix would increase the youthfulness.
A youngblood like Eric would be fired up to impress the fans, and thereby give more energy to the team. Furthermore, there is a clear need for more options in the defensive department. As we all know, Gerard Piqué is 33 and isn’t getting any younger. He has already shown inconsistency in his form, despite still being the undisputed leader of the azulgranas‘ backline.
Even if Piqué has the legs to go on as Barcelona’s first-choice centre-back for a few more years, there’s a need to look at the reality. Gerard needs a replacement on the long run. Even if he can go on and play every game, he needs to have a backup who can take the mantle from him. The upbringing of Ronald Araújo is also a reason to be hopeful for the future. However, the more number of young centre-backs integrated into the first team, the merrier.
Eric García has been growing in leaps and bounds under Pep Guardiola | Photo by Simon Bellis / Sportimage via Imago
The defence, notably centre-back, is one of the most critical positions at any club. Teams always look to establish a defensive partnership between two players who are hardly ever changed. Any other position, including the goalkeeper, can be rotated without affecting the team. Nevertheless, the centre-backs form the foundation of the XI. Moreover, for Barcelona, these players are not only involved in regular defensive duties. They must also understand the nuances of build-up play.
It takes time for any player to fully comprehend the Barcelona way. And that is why it is more suitable to bring in Eric García when he is at a development phase. He has already been nurtured with the club’s philosophy at a very young age, and his growth under Pep would have only been a boost. Manchester City has a similar style of play to that of Barcelona. And so, García would not require more tailoring when compared to centre-backs bought from other clubs.
Is Eric as good as they say he is?
The hype around Eric García is bound to raise questions over whether he is actually good enough. But in his case, he has been praised for the right reasons. Irrespective of whether he’s playing or not, Eric reads the game fantastically. His ability to understand the game from numerous tactical standpoints has seen him grow a maturity beyond his age. At just 19, he has already begun to work on his coaching badges, indicating that he wants to become a manager in the future.
On numerous occasions, García had even shared his tactical insights and observations to Guardiola. The former Barcelona manager was surprised and awestruck with the depths of Eric’s understanding. And so, at such a tender age, the knowledge he has gained has seen him become a highly technical player. Whether it’s on or off the pitch, a player like him would do a huge favour to Quique Setién.
“Three years ago, four years ago, I started thinking that I would like to have the coaching badges for in the future. That’s why I started doing the first course, and then, once I finish this one, I will go for the second one”
Eric García on taking up coaching badges
Coaches love to work with players who emulate high levels of tactical understanding. They appreciate footballers who can read the games and provide a different perspective. Eric’s work ethic makes him an enjoyable talent to work with. Bringing him into Barcelona’s dressing room would be a huge statement to the existing youngsters. Even if the senior players may seem to show an amount of toxicity towards fresh faces, they would certainly encourage someone like Eric García.
In his eight games so far for Manchester City in the Premier League, Eric has an 80% success rate while facing dribblers. By making smart blocks, interceptions, and clearances, he has shown signs of his quality in whatever brief periods he has played. Playing alongside world-class and experienced footballer like Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho has allowed him to gain insights from some of the best defenders.
In his four starts for Man City in the league, he has had over 100 touches on two occasions. As we know, Guardiola loves to involve his centre-backs a lot in the attacking phases, and for that, they must be confident with the ball. García is calm and composed when he receives the ball. Eric isn’t hot-headed despite being just 19 and weighs his options before making a pass. He has had a 100% pass receiving accuracy in four out of eight games, highlighting how relaxed he is while dealing with the opposition’s pressing.
Since he is only just entering into the highest level of football, there isn’t a lot of statistics to back his abilities. Notwithstanding, the numbers he’s putting up so far has indicated signs of massive promise. With six games left in the league, the youngster is likely to receive more starts. Having already played against the current champions Liverpool in their recent 4–0 drubbing, Pep is giving Eric opportunities even against the best sides. There is no reason why Guardiola won’t be aiming to tie him to a long-term contract at Man City.
Barcelona wanting Eric García back is a good sign. It’s an indication that the board has been paying attention to the development of the La Masía graduates. That said, there is a chance that Pep would block the Catalan outfit from signing him. As we have already seen how the regime treats the youth, the Spaniard might not want Eric to join them immediately. With Getafe’s recently-signed Marc Cucurella being the prime example of the board’s rough handling of promising talents, Guardiola wouldn’t want García to go through the same plight.
With Pep likely to stay for another season at the Etihad Stadium, he would definitely want to continue to oversee Eric’s development. With Fernandinho ageing, Nicolás Otamendi inconsistent, and John Stones non-existent, Eric might even break into the first-team. Guardiola has already rewarded players like Phil Foden for his patience by integrating him into the squad. With García being another youngster he rates highly, there is no reason why he won’t be featuring more alongside Laporte next season.
Either way, Barcelona should make an attempt to sign him. With an ageing squad, an introduction of youthfulness is mandatory. Be it in this window, or a couple of years later, they should look to acquire Eric’s services. Having already missed out on Matthijs de Ligt, they shouldn’t be letting go of the opportunity to sign yet another promising talent when the time comes.
Héctor Bellerín, a need or a double?
Héctor Bellerín, former Barça academy player, is linked with a move back to his fellow club. But with a right-back position that has been lacking a certain kind of consistency and solidity since the departure of Dani Alves, is Bellerín what Barcelona really need or does he leave open the same holes Semedo has been suffering? Let’s analyse who Bellerín is and what can he bring to the blaugrana cause.
The three-times FA Cup and Community Shield winner, Héctor Bellerín, has come to a crossroad. After six years of first-team football in London, he might have felt the need to change. And Arsenal’s eternal crisis and lack of high competitive seasons may have something to do with it. Especially when you are a talented, young footballer that is reaching his peak years. But at the end of the day, it is all too relative to talk about motives for a divorce, since both the North London club and the Spanish player are taking the path back to the light, really slowly but effectively.
As Arsenal is beginning its journey back to success with Pep Guardiola’s alumni, Mikel Arteta, Bellerín came back from yet another series of injury that have, until now, compromised much of his career. Perhaps, taking aside those fitness issues, he may already have been in a big club and we would not even be talking about a potential transfer for him in this stage of his career.
Unfortunately for him, he has been heavily influenced by injuries throughout his whole professional life. After he had his breakthrough season with Arsenal, in the 2014/2015, nobody would have thought the unfortunate series of events that would have characterised him later on.
Up until 2018, Bellerín’s only fitness problems had been a couple of groin strains and ankle injuries, which resulted in a mere four weeks away from football in four years. As his talent was developing in what has always been a great place to play entertaining football, his body had always responded well to the Premier League’s workloads. Until the 2018/2019 season.
While that campaign opened with the same continuity he showed in the previous ones, the problems began to show their marks just before Christmas. In a league game against Southampton, Héctor Bellerín sprained his ankle. Nobody knew, but that was going to be the start of a new delicate, unfortunate era for the Spaniard. And after the return on the pitch, a month later, Bellerín’s knee couldn’t take it anymore. Against Chelsea, the tragedy came to a sad reality: cruciate ligament rupture, meaning the end of the season for the footballer and the beginning of a long ordeal.
Héctor Bellerín already was a strong option to sign for Barça in 2017 before they went for Nélson Semedo | Photo by Julian Finney via Getty Images
Beginning last season still as injured, he slowly recovered from the trauma, getting back to full fitness around late October 2019. But the lack of luck followed him furthermore. After a month of benches and a small number of minutes on the pitch, he got injured again. This time, hamstring. But will has never been an issue for Bellerín, as he eventually got back onto the pitch a month and a half later and felt enough trust and faith from Arteta, who rarely left him out of that starting eleven spot until the end of the course.
Héctor Bellerín’s career has been a journey. As much as he has always shown character and determination, he has always been one of the most talented players Arsenal has developed over the last decade. Offensive and aggressive on the pitch, his dynamism and speed form a phenomenal conjunction down the right-back side. But apart from physical aspects of his game, even his technical ability has shown improvements year after year, as he has registered 25 assists in his 205 appearances in a red shirt. Just imagine what some pure Barça style training could do to him and to his overall affinities.
He has always been a pure talent, but at the same the risk of getting another Nélson Semedo or Ousmane Dembélé is huge. What do I mean by that? Barcelona’s problems in the last few years have always been the defensive system. Not the defensive players, but the collective all together. How a team defends is the representations of a group’s effort, rather than the individual brilliance, which can help in moments but not in a long-term vision. And next to this very problem that has been afflicting Barça ever since Dani Alves’ departure is the fact that lots of players bought by the Catalan club have resulted in a false promise, due to technical misconceptions or injury addiction.
Without pushing too much against Semedo, the Bayern Munich game emphasised yet again how fundamental the full-back positions are in modern football. It is no surprise that Guardiola has spent a lot on those kinds of player: Danilo, Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and joão Cancelo.
At the same time, it is just the same with the likes of Liverpool, who completely changed the way football is perceived through the wings and the quality brought by both Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Bayern Munich, who found in Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich the foundations of another complete and powerful wing work combo with Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry up down the line. Full-backs are the present and the future of football, both defensively and offensively, but especially tactically.
While Barcelona has never shown much interest in reinforcing those full-back positions – apart from Semedo –, football was evolving and the Catalan club has found itself in a blind spot. After many consider Nélson Semedo’s time has come to an end, the question on whether to begin to improve such a crucial yet difficult position to fill starts to arise. And without thinking too much of the similarities between the Portuguese international and Héctor Bellerín, Barça seems to be set in changing names, but not concepts.
Would Bellerín really be a big upgrade to Barcelona’s current options? | Photo by Naomi Baker via Getty Images
Bellerín can be extremely talented and exciting for both the future and the present, especially if he really ends up in a place like Barcelona, where he could refine his technical and offensive movements skills. But the doubts in whether his defensive work will ever improve to such heights will always be there, as Barcelona has shown not to care much about improving their full-backs¡ defensive positioning.
As much as Jordi Alba and Semedo can have excellent offensive movements and ball abilities, they have rarely shown improvements on the other end of the pitch. That is the risk that signing a player like Héctor Bellerín for Barça could bring. A talented full-back, but without a prior defensive foundational work behind him. And injury prone. Does Barcelona really need to make such a bet, again?
There are lots of opinions regarding this latest rumours on Bellerín. Many are against it for fitness reasons, many for footballing ones. Other are in favour because it would bring some new flavour to the Camp Nou. But there are really not many who think it would bring a bettering of the team.
As much as having such talented players on a Barça side should excite every football fan because of what Barcelona itself represents and its technical bible dictates, the only reason behind such a transfer would purely be of a renewal. Changing faces, bringing in some new players, rebuilding around new personalities. But even with a bargain deal in the region of €20 or 25 million, in many ways, Héctor Bellerín would bring to Barça the same features Semedo currently provides. Nothing better, nothing worse.