At the tender age of 19 to describe Munir’s startling rise to Barcelona’s first team as being nothing short of meteoric would be an understatement. In six months La Masia’s most recent graduate has gone from Barcelona’s Juvenil A team to scoring on his full debut for Barcelona, and only this month Munir el Haddadi received his first international cap for his newly acquainted national team, La Roja.
Other than Lionel Messi, Munir is the only player to start the first four of Barcelona’s opening games this campaign. The belated return of Neymar Jr. coinciding with Suárez’s suspension have paved a fortunate path to the starting lineup for the young prodigy, one in which he has taken to impressively.
Who is Munir El Haddadi?
Born to a Moroccan farther and Spanish mother, growing up in a small town northwest of Madrid, football became a big part of his life from a young age. Initially influenced at the street level, before his farther enrolled him for local side CD Galapagar – aged 11.
Scouts soon began to circle as his sweet left foot, raw pace and penchant for goal scoring grabbed the attention of Madrid’s stellar clubs, which led to him joining Atlético’syouth program.
At 14 Atléti loaned him out to Rayo Majadahonda, a team located in the suburbs of Madrid, in the hope to continue his development playing for their cadet side. His first season saw him emphatically score 32 goals in 29 appearances, inevitably catching the gaze from impressed scouts, based outside the capital.
Following glowing reports from both Barça’s Madrid based scout José Luis Colomo and Juvenil B team coach Francisco Javier García Pimienta, made his way to Catalonia and Munir EL Haddadi soon began his journey at the club he’d call home starting at La Masia.
Sure enough, Munir’s sharp eye for the back of the net continued, notching up 22 goals in his first year – claiming the Juvenil B side’s top goal scorer accolade and the league title. Not long after he was rewarded with a contract extension and promotion to the Juvenil A side, now only two ranks below Messi and co.
Talent Radar Accolades:
The 2013-14 season would be his breakthrough year. Despite starring in the Juvenil A team, by March he’d be handed his Barcelona B team debut and by August the following year he’d be accelerated into the first team.
The newly established UEFA Youth League – the equivalent of the Champions League for U-19s mirroring the senior competitions format – became the perfect platform for Munir to display his talents on a European stage. Ten games and eleven of Munir’s finest goals later, Barcelona was crowned inaugural champions and his ability was making him somebody you wouldn’t forget. These were goals of the highest quality too; poacher’s finishes, powerful headers, breathtaking volleys and even an audacious halfway line lob in the final.
Running parallel to the Youth League, Munir El Haddadi gained a step-up to the B team in early 2014, which would be the first of many, within the coming months. Starting unremarkably, it wasn’t until nearly two months after his debut that he began to show an impact on the pitch. Below Sandro Ramírez in the pecking order, he was brought off the bench for the closing five minutes against Girona FC with the score tied at 1-1. Almost instantly, a clever exchange between him, Sergi Samper and Javier Espinosa drew the opposing centre half out of position beautifully, whom Munir made pay with an instinctive right foot drive into the top corner. With that, Munir had announced himself. He was to add a goal and assist in the following game, while gaining more game time for Barça B as the season drew to a close, while also acquiring his first three Spanish U-19 caps and getting on the score sheet in each. The best of which was this effort
With an inspiring 2013/14 season in hand, it was no surprise that Munir would be called up to join the first team’s pre-season tour under new boss Luis Enrique. Enrique, the former B team coach, joined embracing the Barça youth, selecting many untested youngsters for his pre-season, including Munir. Pre-season ended with Munir’s upward trajectory continuing, resulting with him top goal scorer and a shoe-in to be made a part of Enrique’s plans for La Liga.
Starting all four of Barça’s openers, clad with a Spanish international cap – thus cementing his allegiance to Spain and blocking his ties to Morocco – the future would seem bright for the nineteen year old. Providing he can cope with the unrelenting pressure that’ll soon shallbe lumped on his shoulders. Under Enrique it is clear he will be given the opportunity to prove his worth, yet there is a worry that too much game-time could hamper his development as a player in the long-term also.
It is likely that once the enigmatic Suárez returns in late October and Neymar regains full fitness however, his chances of regular football will gradually diminish. That said, Munir has shown his impact from the bench with the Barcelona B team last season and Enrique is a coach who is prepared to leave top names on the bench, and base his decisions on form – giving Munir El Haddadi every chance of further success.
Given the club’s current standing regarding a transfer embargo, which could mean an absence from the transfer market until January 2016 (pending further appeal to the Court of Arbitration in Sport) the need to blood the emerging talent sooner rather than later is becoming a pressing matter. With Sandro, Bartra, Samper and Munir all making shifts into the first team, it is from the fruits of Barcelona’s foundations in La Masia, not necessarily foreign imports, that a better, more successful future can be forged. And Munir could be the most exciting of them all.
Munir El Haddadi was also named in our 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2015 feature, coming in at #13 in our list of forwards and was the winner of the ‘Debutant of the Season’ awards in our Talent Radar Awards 2015.
Munir El Haddadi has also made his mark on Outside of the Boot‘s Talent Radar feature, making an appearance in a Talent Radar Team of the Week and getting into the Top 10 Forwards’ list in the Talent Radar Player Rankings.
His latest accolade includes being a part of our 2016 edition of the Best Young Players to watch.
Style of play, Strengths & Weaknesses
While his preferred position may be as a striker, in Barça’s opening four matches of the year, Munir El Haddadi has started on either the left or right attacking positions of the club’s classic 4-3-3 formation, with Messi occupying the false 9 position inside of him.
Predominately left footed, he enjoys cutting inside to open play up onto his favoured foot. His style of play lends itself to a fast, tricky dribbler capable of a deadly finish.
A feature of his game is how well he can play off the shoulder of the defence. Munir’s pace is primed to feed off the accurate through-balls of those behind him, already paying dividends in pre-season and La Liga.
Always keen to attack the space, with great anticipation he holds the uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time – a trait that many seek but few attain. His awareness and positioning strikes of a footballer with maturity beyond his youthful years.
The youngster’s bountiful energy, fresh desire and enthusiasm to win the ball back for his team illustrate Munir as not just an individual talent but also someone willing to work for the good of the team. A good example of which can be seen on his full debut for the Spanish national side; despite only 15 minutes on the pitch against Macedonia, his appetite for the ball forced the away side to lose possession, allowing David Silva to release Pedro who comfortably chipped in for Spain’s fifth.
Talent alone wouldn’t have been enough to fast-track him into Barca’s first team, no, that wouldn’t have set him apart in a team of household names. But having a strong work ethic and determination to be a team player on top of his natural ability, that was what secured his position among the world’s finest.
At 5ft 9” Munir’s slight frame can be considered a cause for concern, against Villarreal he was occasionally bullied off the ball, losing the physical battle with relative ease. Another weakness attributed to Munir includes his, at times, wayward shot selection – either by being caught overplaying, or holding onto the ball for too long where a pass would be better placed. Both problems that can be ironed out through building experience and his own development as a footballer.
An area that he can look to improve would be his passing accuracy, already after four matches his stats are languishing around the mid-low 70s and to be a regular starter at Barcelona this must improve.
Naturally, comparisons with fellow young bloomer, Bojan, have attached themselves to the teenager; both making an impression in their debut season, both receiving a premature Spain cap and both giving the feeling of a prodigious talent in the making. Where they may differ will be decided on whether Munir can handle the pressure his elder evidently could not.
Perhaps the most important role will lie with Barcelona as a football club, to facilitate the growth of Munir as a footballer. Hopefully Barcelona have learnt from their mistakes with Bojan and will seek to protect Munir El Haddadi from the media spotlight and help stabilise his progression so not to rush his development. By no means, is Munir the finished article, at 19 he still has a lot to learn and those at Barcelona should be able to guide him into the kind of player Bojan struggled to fulfill.
Personality wise, Munir El Haddidi is a well-rounded, very grounded individual, someone who will not simply rely on the natural talent he is blessed with. I believe he is capable of making the challenging step-up long-term and it will only be a matter of time before he is made a member of the first team officially – he is still registered as a Barcelona B player.
Here’s what Andrew Macfarlane, head writer at La Liga Blog told Outside of the Boot about Munir El Haddadi.
“Munir‘s development in the past 12 months has surprised everyone including myself after graduating from the famed La Masia academy. What makes him such a threat is footballing intelligence and ability to read the game despite a very young age. He’s also very composed and no slouch when running at speed either.”
Written by Iain Beddow