Why we're all hoping Tito gives Gerard Deulofeu his Barcelona chance
It seems like we've been waiting forever, but next season, under Tito Vilanova, Gerard Deulofeu should finally get his first team chance at Barcelona.
More Ronaldo than Messi, 18 year-old Deulofeu has been marked for greatness since he was 12 years of age.
It was at that age when Nike came knocking, tying Deulofeu to a long-term contract, which included a yearly salary of €150,000 from 14 years of age. At 16, such was the buzz around the young winger, that Nike and Barca worked together to secure the midfielder to a new contract - an agreement unique to European football.
Along with a buyout clause of €20 million, on Barca's insistence, Nike also made their influence count by including a penalty should he leave for a club sponsored by a rival - such as adidas' Real Madrid or Chelsea.
Despite the deal, Barca's directors have always been nervous about Deulofeu due to his family's choice to go with Gines Carvajal as his agent.
Carvajal is more known for doing deals with Real Madrid than Barcelona and counts Raul among his long list of clients. Indeed, Barca's fears were confirmed when last year Real came knocking for Deulofeu. It was claimed they were reacting to Barca's cheeky bid for Castilla pair Jese Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata. Both deals came to nothing, but Barca's card had been marked.
For his part, Carvajal is convinced Deulofeu can make it at Barca, where he was training regularly with the first team squad before promotion to the B team.
"Gerard is different from all other players. He has dribbling ability, speed and imagination. He has everything to make the step up, but he has not done anything yet," said Carvajal.
New Barca coach Vilanova has hinted fans will see Deulofeu in senior action next season.
Vilanova knows all about the teen, having followed his progress since his first days breaking into the Barca B squad.
"Deulofeu is a very good player and can handle the pressure of playing for Barcelona," he said. "But we must not add to that pressure by placing extra expectations on his shoulders.
"He must grow and improve working alongside the star players we already have. Then he can find his place.
"We can't expect an immediate impact when he's competing with some of the best players we've seen in Barca's history."
It's a tag he'd like to avoid, but Deulofeu has been compared with Lionel Messi and for many observers of the workings at La Masia, he's the best they've seen on the ball since the Argentine.
But standing at 6ft, Deulofeu is more similar to Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo and its that physique which has had English clubs making enquiries for the past two years. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all came knocking after seeing Deulofeu impress in Spain's U17 European Championship final defeat to England in Liechtenstein.
Chelsea football chief Michael Emenalo is a big admirer and has asked Barca to keep him informed of their plans during a recent visit to La Masia.