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Mustafa Saeed writes a detailed scout report about Pablo Maffeo, the Manchester City and Spain full back.
More than a decade ago, Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain were spearheading Barcelona’s development into arguably the greatest football team the world has ever seen.
Under the presidency of Joan Laporta, Soriano was a senior vice-president while Begiristain was serving his former playing club as director of football, overseeing the implementation of a strategy which yielded three Champions League trophies in the space of five years (in 2006, 2009 and 2011).
In September 2012, Soriano was appointed Manchester City’s chief executive and promptly recruiting his old colleague Begiristain as director of football, which gave an indication that Manchester City were trying to implement something that Barcelona have been following for years and its starting point can be found in one area which will play a fundamental role in cementing the place for City’s ongoing success which is youth development.
Who better can you pass the buck to other than the ones who came from the undoubted global leaders in producing a constant flow of technically gifted world-class internationals, with Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and many more all progressing through Barca’s famed La Masia training facility.
The icing on the cake came when Manchester City appointed Soriano’s and Begiristain’s fellow at Barcelona-Pep Guardiola- as the club head coach putting him in contention to again reap the harvest from the youth team, with Kelechi Iheanacho already making the breakthrough and certain players on the rise like Aleix Garcia, Manu Garcia, Bersant Celina, Tosin Adarabioyo and most interestingly Pablo Maffeo who caught the eye in his limited chances this season.
In Sant Joan Despi just outside Barcelona, Pablo Carmine Maffeo was born at 12 July 1997. He began his education at Espanyol at the age of six, making his senior debut for reserves only at 15, coming on as a late substitute in a 1–0 home win agiainst CE Constància for the Segunda División B championship. In that same lucky year for him-2013, Maffeo moved abroad, agreeing deal with Premier League Club Manchester City. His agent is Pere Guardiola, Pep’s brother, with whom City naturally have close ties.
He started hitting the right notes since his arrival, till actually being called up by first team manager Manual Pelligrini for a match against Watford but remained unused in the 2–0 home win. He would subsequently appear on the bench in a few more occasions, aside from being crucial part of the under-19s side which reached the quarter final of the UEFA Youth League in 2015/2016.
On 13 January 2016, Maffeo joined Segunda Division side Girona FC on loan until June, after signing a new three-year contract with City. He made his professional debut on 7 February, replacing Borja Garcia in a 1–1 home draw against Gimnastic de Tarragona. He played 13 games with the Spanish club during that spell.
After impressing in the pre-season period following his return to Manchester, Guardiola decided to keep him. He gave him his competitive debut against Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League play-off second leg game in August. His second start came two months later in a loss to Manchester United in the EFL Cup.
Despite not being on the pitch for long time, he clearly showed huge potential that can be the reason why City loaned him back to Girona FC by the beginning of the winter transfer window in a bid to further unleash the covered potential with more playing minutes.
A defender that loves defending, Maffeo can bomb down the flank, but stopping attackers is what he does best and enjoys most.
Those qualities have earned him inevitable comparison to Pablo Zabaleta, which the teenager is – for now at least – happy about.
“For me, Zabaleta is the best,” he said last year.
“He’s like my daddy here! He’s nice to me; the first time I came here he came to speak to me. He speaks with me, asking about my family, if I am ok. I think he is the nicest man.” Maffeo added.
What the 19-year-old offered City taking his chances this season is something they lacked for the last few years, relentless speed down the right hand side and defining impact on the attacking front. Pablo Zabaleta is 31 now and has lost his burst of pace ever since missing the first half of last season with knee problems. Sagna is almost 34 and is not as quick as he was at his Arsenal peak either. This why City could be already having what they have been searching high and low to find.
Despite loaning out so many rising youngsters like: Bersant Celina, Brandon Barker, Manu Garcia and Enes Unal. Pep Guardiola was driven to keep Maffeo due to his impressive pre-season performances.
His first involvement was against a fresh Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich and that’s probably where others’ shoulders would slump, Maffeo’s enthusiasm shone through though. He played with outstanding confidence and showed great balance throughout the game; spotting danger, dealing with it fast. No hesitation, no second-guessing himself. Maffeo’s next appearance, against Broussia Dortmund was similarly impressive where he again showed the great balance he can offer to his team.
Not only does Maffeo shoot to his marker, closing the space and stymieing the attack early, but he also executes tackles very cleanly, allowing himself to smoothly handle the defensive work over his shoulder.
Being tried at centre-back on occasions for the youth team added an extra string to the Spaniard’s bow, playing centrally has honed other parts of his game whilst refining the best parts. The snappy, instinctive defensive play has remained, while the ability to bring the ball out from the middle has improved.
Against Sevilla, in the UEFA Youth League, he played centrally in one of the legs and flashed an ability to push out from the back in a central zone and lead play. He was perfectly fine dribbling with his head up and searching for any passing opportunities. This is an extremely attractive quality to Guardiola, and these are the sorts of players he loves to work with and loves to mould.
Despite running his socks off in attack in injury time against Manchester United in that EFL cup game even when facing a tough opponent in United’s Marcus Rashford, it’s very doubtful that he can put on such physically demanding performances on a regular basis. Players usually need a bunch of experience to manage their physical efforts throughout the 90 minutes, and most importantly throughout the whole season, and naturally he could still be lacking that kind of experience.
It’s always an advantage in the Premier League to be physically ready to deal with the many aerial duels there. At 5 ft 3, Maffeo has to bulk up his physique in order for him to be much better equipped being thrown into the deep end.
The young full-back may be short by several aspects of already becoming a first team pick at Manchester City, but given the skill set Pep has suggested he prefers from his full-backs, opportunities may not be far away.
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