Tello's time: The winger leading Barcelona's new generation
Barcelona’s humiliating Champions League thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich prompted much soul-searching at the Catalan club, with Gerard Pique arguing changes must be made while the local media have busied themselves by compiling lists of summer transfer targets.
Amidst the frenzy, coach Tito Vilanova has maintained no drastic overhauls are required and that the club’s much-admired youth system will continue to provide the bulk of the first team squad.
And on Sunday, one homegrown product again suggested that he’s ready to become a far more regular presence in Vilanova’s starting 11.
Winger Cristian Tello delivered another highly impressive performance down the left flank, hitting the crossbar with a stinging strike and creating chances for David Villa and Andres Iniesta.
Tello was given the chance to start due to the absence of Lionel Messi (hamstring), Pedro (illness) and Cesc Fabregas (suspended) from the Barca front-line, and his penetrative display left many fans wondering why he didn’t receive any playing time during the two legs against Bayern.
The youngster’s speedy showing certainly made its mark on visiting coach Pepe Mel, who lavishly praised Tello after seeing his Real Betis side succumb to a 4-2 defeat.
“Tello isn’t the future, he’s the present,” said Mel. “He could play for the national team now.”
Barca boss Vilanova backed up that assessment, adding his own glowing tribute to the 21-year-old, who has now started 11 league games this season.
“Tello is a special player, he gives us different things,” said Vilanova, who flew to New York for three days on Monday to undergo a series of routine tests following his cancer treatment in the US earlier this year.
“He takes on his marker, he shoots and he’s feeling more comfortable in the first team. “At the beginning of the season perhaps we didn’t think Tello would turn into the player he is today.”
Tello’s tally of seven league goals makes him Barca’s fourth-leading scorer behind Messi, Fabregas and Villa, and the warm reception he received from the Nou Camp crowd made it clear the fans want to see more of him in the future.
“It’s an honour that people want me to play,” Tello said. “My season has been very good and you always want to play every possible minute, but I’m happy with the time I’ve been given.”
Tello’s main asset is his searing pace, which left Betis full back Javi Chica floundering helplessly in his wake on more than one occasion during Sunday’s encounter.
He added: “That’s what I’ve been asked to do by the coach, and the team knows if they can’t find a way through the middle, they always have me out on the wing.”
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: BARCA’S NEXT GENERATION
Widely regarded as the brightest of Barca’s current crop, exciting winger Deulofeu has already been targeted by Manchester City despite not yet starting a first-team game. The gifted 19-yearold, who operates chiefly on the right flank, is the third leading scorer in Spain’s Segunda Division this season, with 18 for Barca’s B team.
The younger brother of Thiago Alcantara, Rafinha is showing every sign of following in the footsteps of his older sibling and father Mazinho, who won the 1994 World Cup with Brazil. Another central midfielder but more direct than Thiago, Rafinha represented Spain at youth level but has switched allegiance to Brazil, his country of birth.
One of the biggest positives to emerge from the first few weeks of Barca B’s season was the sensational form of 17-year-old left-back Alex Grimaldo, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jordi Alba in physique and playing style. Sadly, Grimaldo’s season finished early when he suffered a serious knee injury in February.
The all-action midfielder has already featured in the firstteam on a handful of occasions, having made his full La Liga debut in a 3-1 win over Malaga in May 2011. Next season could be make or break for the 21-year-old, who will either have to become a regular or move on. Joined as a teenager from Tarragona.