“Sergi Roberto is a player to look out for in the coming years. When he really breaks through you’ll all be surprised.” – Pep Guardiola, in 2011.
La Masia, the youth academy of FC Barcelona is famed for producing the most tactically and technically gifted footballers as a result of their lauded football philosophy. The likes of Fabregas, Busquets Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, all football maestros epitomize the standards and quality of La Masia graduates. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk regarding Sergi Roberto in the Spanish media. On the pitch, many football pundits have labelled him the heir to the Xaviesta throne. Off the pitch, Sergi Roberto continues to wow the ladies with his looks. All this hype circulating around a player who has only made 5 senior appearances for the Barcelona side.
The 21 year old was born in Reus, in the province of Tarragona in Catalonia on the 7th of February, 1992. In 2006, aged 14, Sergi Roberto left his hometown club to join Barcelona. He spent 7 years at La Masia before being promoted to the Blaugrana first team. He was handed his first Barcelona B appearance by Luis Enrique.
Due to his remarkable performances and displays in the B team, Pep Guardiola handed the youngster his senior debut in a Copa Del Rey clash against AD Cueta, the Spaniard put in a man-of-the-match display in the game, running the midfield like two midgets have done for half a decade, leaving plenty of optimism to the Culés.
STYLE OF PLAY
Sergi Roberto plays predominantly in midfield, specifically central midfield. Pace, strength, versatility dynamism, tactical discipline are fine attributes and qualities the young Spaniard possesses. As a Spanish midfielder, his style of play is linked to the popular tiki-taka Spanish football philosophy although when you take a critical observation, you’d notice that he does not play like the conventional Spanish midfielder.
In terms of approach, Sergi Roberto is more direct than most Catalan midfielders. The dynamic midfielder possesses incredible Box-to-box (B2B) qualities. He often picks up the ball from teammates in deeper positions before taking on midfielders and defenders with an incredible turn of pace, conclusively opening up gaps and leaving voids to be exploited.
Forward runs with the ball
Sergi Roberto ran 12,695 kilometres vs Celtic, most of a Barcelona player in Champions League this season
It’s civil to say no one could ever replace Andres Iniesta’s role and importance to a team. The 29 year old is renowned for his off the ball movement and competence to create space and open gaps. When managers come up against Barcelona, their initial tactic and strategy hinge on compacting the midfield to prevent the creative and flair Barcelona players from playing between through them, furthermore, restricting Barca’s build-up. In Sergi Roberto, the Catalans have a player at their disposal, who makes identical intelligent runs as Andres, disrupting the opponent’s positioning and balance, consequently opening up space to exploit.
Illustration – As soon as Messi receives the pass from his teammate, we know he’s going to look for any gap to maneuver the ball in; either the orthodox Lionel Messi run we’ve seen over the years or that lovely pass splitting pass to a teammate. In this build-up, take note of Sergi Roberto’s movement to create space for Messi to switch play to the other flank.
Creating space and opening gaps
The hallmark of good footballers is their intelligence and ability to find space, although mental skills are often neglected by coaches. Such attributes can not be acquired simply by training, making players with such spatial insight a rarity in the modern game. His spatial awareness for a youngster is impressive. An important feature of Barcelona’s system is the ability to occupy space to receive passes and also the ability to find space to finish off moves. In the next sequence of illustrations, take notice of the 21 year old’s surging run from Central midfield to finish against Lechia Gdansk in preseason.
As a graduate of the Barcelona youth academy, it’s not surprising to see Roberto’s ball-playing skills. Although not as eloquent and precise as ‘The Puppet Master’ Xavi Hernandez, the youngster’s passing skills are apparent for all to see. 90% accuracy so far this season, a testament to that.
Pep Guardiola, the man who gave Roberto is Barcelona debut deployed a 6-second pressing rule at the club; when Barcelona lose the ball, they press the ball collectively and try and win it back in 6 seconds, if they fail to do so, they sit back and mark zonally wait for a loose pass, before pressing high up the pitch again. As a result of this philosophy, it’s not very surprising Sergi Roberto has high energy levels and runs tirelessly to win back possession.
“Sergi Roberto is too good, he can play everywhere”- Pep. In FC Barcelona’s recent la liga game against Real Sociedad, we noticed Sergi Roberto’s incredible versatility when he replaced Lionel Messi, ten minutes from the final whistle. Tata Martino deployed S.Roberto in the false 9 role which was previously occupied by the Argentine, where he put in an effective shift in his ten-minute-cameo, showing glimpses of his remarkable talent.
With Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta entering the twilight of their illustrious careers, plus Thiago’s departure to join Pep at Bayern Munich, the stage is set for Sergi Roberto to make his breakthrough.