The ascendancy of Luis Enrique, the former Barcelona player and youth coach, to the club’s hot-seat was a clear indication that the Catalans will be continuing on their unceasing journey of producing proficient and competent young footballers from their distinguished academy.
The latest youngster from Barcelona’s youth setup is 19-year-old Spanish forward Munir El Haddadi. Although not from La Masia per se, it is safe to say that the youngster has come leaps and bounds since joining the Catalan giants.
Born in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a small mountain town in the northern outskirts of Madrid, Munir is regarded as one of the best young players in Spain.
Munir joined Atletico Madrid in the 2010-11 season before being sent on loan to Rayo Majadahonda. He scored 32 goals in 29 matches playing for Majadahonda’s Cadete A team. This remarkable feat made him a subject of interest for a plethora of top clubs in Europe. Barcelona first heard about him from their Madrid based scout.
When they sent representatives to watch him, Munir, at the most opportune moment, scored a perfect hat-trick. Overcome with elation, Barcelona wrapped him up in a deal within days.
The Barca career
It has been a meteoric rise for Munir so far in his Barcelona career. Having made his debut for Barcelona B in March of this year, the exciting young prospect has already scored for the first team in their victory against Elche. Picking up a lofted ball from Ivan Rakitic just outside the box, the 19-year-old showed no signs of apprehension as he produced a delicate left-footed finish which saw the ball at the back of the net.
“I had no fear about playing him,” Luis Enrique announced after the match.
“He trains like he plays, he gives us a lot of options and he has a lot of character. He never rests. But let’s not get carried away, he still has a lot to do.”
Instincts: The Catalan press describes him as a highly instinctive player, whose major strength lies in and out of the d-box area, creating space and taking chances. Another strong-point of his is his work-rate. He has exhibited maturity well beyond his years so far.
Pacey, technically sound and equally adept at taking set-pieces, no wonder Munir is regarded as the next big thing to come out of Barcelona.
Weaker right-foot: Munir’s weaker right peg lets him down from time to time. This is something Luis Enrique will be hoping the player works on as being two-footed is considered quintessential for a striker.
Munir finished as Barcelona’s top scorer in their pre-season scoring four goals in five matches. Barcelona were champions in the inaugural UEFA Youth League last year beating Benfica 3-0 in the final.
Munir scored a brace including a cracking goal from inside his own half, reminiscent of a goal scored by a young David Beckham against Wimbledon. He finished the tournament as top scorer, scoring 11 goals. He also topped the assist charts with five assists. Needless to say, he was declared player of the tournament.
Fortune favours young Munir at the moment. With Luis Suarez not available till October, Alexis Sanchez sold to Arsenal and Neymar still struggling with a back-injury, the diminutive forward need to grasp his opportunity whenever presented. Enrique is known for his strong approbation for youth and with him at the helm, Munir will get a call from time to time.
Munir was eligible to play for his father’s homeland Morocco but rejected the idea after a call from Vicente del Bosque. Having lost Chelsea and Spain forward Diego Costa to an injury, the Spain boss called up young Munir to the first team squad.
The 19-year-old grabbed the opportunity with both hands, thus ending speculation about his international future. He made his debut for the senior team in a 5-1 victory against Macedonia in the Euro 2016 qualifier, coming off the bench to replace Atletico Madrid’s Koke for the final 13 minutes of the game.