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Patrick Mills provides a detailed scout report on Dani Ceballos, Real Madrid’s technically gifted midfielder.


Despite the goalscoring exploits of Marco Asensio and Saul Niguez, the player of the tournament award at the U21 European championships this summer went to a midfielder who failed to find the net once in Poland. When it comes to primary attacking statistics, Dani Ceballos’ influence appears insignificant, having scored and assisted just twice for Real Betis last season. However, his all action displays in the heart of the young La Roja side’s midfield earned him an 18 million euro move to Real Madrid. Installed in his contract is a 500 million euro buy-out clause. Clearly, Madrid see Ceballos as a long-term replacement for 31 year old Luka Modric.

It’s a shrewd move from club president Florentino Perez. Not just because of Ceballos’ relatively small cost, but also because of the similarities in his game to that of Modric. Neither player scores or assists much, but their ability to link the play and break opponents’ shape with clever passing and ball retention are nonetheless crucial to their teams.

With Ceballos, Asensio and Isco set to lead Los Blancos into a new era over the next few years, combined with the seemingly inevitable arrival of Monaco prodigy Kylian Mbappe, fans at the Santiago Bernabeu can sleep soundly knowing that their club are preparing for continued European dominance. Meanwhile, Barcelona’s failure to replace Xavi and Iniesta is proving to be their undoing having sold the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas. Madrid appear to be learning from their rival’s mistakes.

Who is Dani Ceballos?

Born in Utrera, Dani Ceballos joined Sevilla’s youth academy at the age of just 8. Five years later, however, the midfielder was released due to chronic bronchitis. He went on to play for his local club before leaving to join Sevilla’s rival club Real Betis. Here he made his debut aged 17 and a year later helped his side to promotion from the second tier to La Liga. Ceballos struggled to adapt to life at the top initially but last season began to make a name for himself in Spain.

After impressing for Spain on their way to the final of the U21 Euros, Ceballos was being linked with a move to every top club in World football. Barcelona and Real Madrid contested the final push for his signature with the 20 year old opting for Madrid in the end. Former Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque believes Ceballos is ready for the step up, “Dani Ceballos is capable of playing for Real Madrid and has nothing to envy about the players at the club.”

What is his Style of Play?

Ceballos has stated in the past that he sees himself as more of an 8, rather than a 10, and given the qualities of Isco and Asensio, Ceballos should be able to provide Madrid’s team with the right balance heading into the future. Because of his good press resistance, he has a tendency to receive the ball in front of the opposition’s midfield before drawing them out and carrying possession into the space behind them. He has the intelligence to relieve his team of opponent pressure before releasing teammates further forward. Former Betis coach Victor Sanchez del Amo spoke about this, “He is really talented, has impressive confidence and is capable of getting out of situations that would be impossible for a normal footballer.”

What are his Strengths?

Ceballos’ close control, ability to carry the ball into the attacking third and his overall intelligence are what stand out. He’s unlikely to ever become a goalscoring midfielder or classic playmaker but his output is similar to Modric in the sense that he retains the ball well and moves the opposition around with clever passing and movement. As mentioned earlier, he recorded just 2 goals and 2 assists for Betis last term. He did, however, create 38 chances for his teammates in 30 appearances, and had an 81% pass accuracy. He is also adept at reading the opponent’s intentions and winning the ball back for his team. Ceballos former teammate at Betis, Ruben Pardo, had this to say;

“Dani is a player with a lot of quality who makes everything easier for his team-mates. He always gives you the right pass so you can move the ball more comfortably. He makes everything simpler.”

What are his Weaknesses?

Technically, Ceballos is as good as any young midfielder in Europe. He isn’t particularly efficient in front of goal but his game is to get the ball to his teammates in the final third, not necessarily to supply from there. Having said that, perhaps he could add another dimension to his game by becoming more ruthless in and around the box.

Off the pitch, Ceballos has flaws that have possibly held him back in the past and if he is to maintain his career’s upward momentum, he will need to remain focused on his football. During Barcelona’s Copa Del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao, fans of both teams were heard booing the national anthem. Ceballos commented on twitter, saying the following:

“I find the whistling of the national anthem a disgrace, A bomb needs to fall on the stands and kill all the Catalan and Bizcayan dogs.”

Other derogatory tweets relating to Catalonia, as well as separate comments made about former Madrid keeper Iker Casillas, were removed from his social media accounts earlier this summer amid his emergence into the spotlight. He accepted at the beginning of last season that the time had come for him to focus all his energy into football and avoid the distractions.

“Last season, [2015/16] I felt I didn’t perform as well as I should have. I spoke with my parents and they told me to focus only on football, and to forget everything else. That’s what I did and I’m happy with what I’m achieving now.”

If he can keep his eye on the ball and continue to fulfil his potential, there is little doubting that Ceballos has the talent to become one of Europe’s best midfielders and establish himself as a mainstay, both for Madrid and Spain.


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Patrick Mills

Patrick Mills

Patrick is a coach, writer and psychology student from Ireland.
Patrick Mills

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