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A bizarre halt in the rise of Martin Montoya

A steady rise up the Barcelona ranks followed by what looks like a brick wall: this could describe Martin Montoya’s time at Catalonia. With the ageing Dani Alves, you would assume Montoya would be the next in line, but clearly reality tells us differently. Mark Ooi talks about the 23 year old’s rise and halt in this peculiar case at the Nou Camp.

Montoya Barcelona 2015

With Spain’s success at youth level on the international stage, particularly over the past 5 years, one would naturally expect a lot from a player who featured heavily for La Rojita in their recent consecutive U21 Euro title wins. Comparing Spain’s starting XIs for both finals, against Switzerland in 2011 and Italy in 2013, there were 3 constants on the pitch. One of those players is now 1 of the best goalkeepers in the English Premier League and another was a key component in Bayern Munich’s successful defence of their Bundesliga title in his debut 2013/14 season. The 2 players in question? David de Gea and Thiago Alcântara respectively. And what of the third? Well, that was Martin Montoya.

As Dani Alves has been 1 of the best rightbacks in the world over most of the past decade, it is not much of a surprise that Montoya has not featured regularly at senior level for Barcelona. However, even with the Brazilian now aged 31 and clearly on the decline, Montoya is still not getting a look in. A couple of years ago, in the second half of Pep Guardiola’s glorious reign at Camp Nou, Montoya was given his debut and proceeded to be further involved at senior level year-upon-year. He impressed sufficiently in before the winter break in 2010/11 with Barca B in the Segunda Division and was named on the 1st-team bench for a match against Almeria in the Copa del Rey. The young Catalan went on to finish 2010/11 with a senior debut off the bench away to Mallorca, his 1st senior start against Real Sociedad as well as being named amongst Pep’s substitutes on a further 2 occasions. Before that, in the summer of 2011, Montoya played the full 90 minutes of Spain’s 2-1 defeat to France in the final of the U19 Euros. A year on and the fullback had successfully made a tremendous leap in his progression, finishing off his 2010/11 campaign by providing 1 assist in the group stage and playing all but 8 minutes in La Rojita’s capture of the U21 Euro title.

The following 2011/12 season would be another step up. First and foremost, in September 2011, Vicente del Bosque called up Montoya for a 3-2 friendly win over Chile. He did not make an appearance but that call-up was a deserved reward for the good form that he had shown till then. The young Catalan played the full 90 minutes of his UEFA Champions League debut, against BATE Borisov, and capped it off with his 1st goal for the Barca 1st-team. He was also named on the bench for the 0-0 Quarter-Final 1st leg stalemate against AC Milan at the San Siro. In La Liga, Montoya played from the first to last whistle against Valencia, Rayo Vallecano and Espanyol and made a total of 7 appearances and was named amongst the subs a further 5 times, 1 of which was in the Clasico. His participation in Barca B’s season was reduced to 21 appearances, compared to the previous year’s 30, and this was due to his increased inclusion in Pep’s plans at senior level. Of particular note would be the Copa del Rey final that year, as Pep named Montoya in his starting XI for what was his last match as Barca coach.

After Pep left, Montoya continued to get encouraging amounts of playing time under the late Tito Vilanova. Tito’s only year in charge further aided young Montoya’s development – 5 Copa del Rey appearances, 15 appearances in La Liga, including impressing off the bench in a 2-2 Clasico draw, and featuring thrice in the Champions League. He also provided 2 assists and scored once, all in La Liga. After his goal in a 4-1 win over Malaga in the last round of league matches, Spain’s U21s beckoned again, in what was the last youth level tournament that he would be eligible for. Montoya played every minute in 4 of La Rojita’s 5 matches, sitting out of the 3rd group stage match as Spain had already qualified from their group. Thiago Alcantara scored a hat-trick as Spain roared to a 4-2 win over Italy in the final, with Montoya being fouled in the box for the penalty Isco converted. All in all, a wonderful  3 seasons between 2010/11 and 2012/13 – 2 La Liga titles, 1 triumph each in the Copa del Rey and the Supercopa for Barca as well as not forgetting 2 consecutive UEFA U21 Euro winners’ medals.

The path from La Masia to Camp Nou, via the Mini Estadi, is a well-trodden one with the likes of Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández having taken that route to superstardom. As we watched him impress for Spain at U21 level and Barca under Pep and Tito, Montoya seemed set to go on and replace – not literally, as he is not cut from the same stylistic cloth as Dani Alves – the Brazilian at Camp Nou. Montoya seemed set to be yet another Masia product to succeed for Barça at senior level.

However, things have gone downhill for the young Spaniard since then; firstly under Gerardo “Tata” Martino and now under Luis Enrique. Montoya made 2 less league appearances under Tata Martino than his 15 under Tito. This reduced 1 less in both the Champions League and Copa del Rey compared to his 3 and 5 in 2012/13.

Season — Minutes played La Liga Copa del Rey Champions League Supercopa Total
2010/11 18 18
2011/12 373 180 90 643
2012/13 1153 374 98 59 1684
2013/14 1123 281 180 1584

After considering the actual number of minutes played, 2013/14 under Tata seems to have been one of stagnation. Conversely, I’d see it as a year of solidification – at least Montoya seemed to have cemented his place as a 1st-team player at Camp Nou and Dani Alves’ understudy. The plan for him to eventually replace Dani Alves was moving along as expected, with Montoya signing a 4-year contract extension (till 2018) in March 2014 after some uncertainty stemming from a stall in negotiations – rewind back to the January 2014 transfer window, Montoya was a regular feature amongst the rumours, being heavily linked to Liverpool.

This season, with Luis Enrique taking over from Tata Martino after the Argentine’s disappointing 2013/14, it all seemed to have come full circle for Montoya. After all, Enrique was in charge of Barca B between 2008 and 2011, and thus it was the Asturian Ironman who was in charge of the B team throughout Montoya’s time spent gaining valuable experience in firstly aiding Barca B’s promotion campaign to the 2nd Division in 2009/10 and afterward in La Segunda. Enrique was expected to once again be the coach to push Montoya up another level. What has happened since has been simply baffling. At the time of writing, Montoya has only made 1 appearance, in La Liga against Athletic, and it seems that anyone and everyone is ahead of him in the pecking order. As expected, Dani Alves remains the 1st choice rightback. However, summer signing Douglas – to say he hasn’t impressed would be an understatement – and even 2nd choice leftback Adriano have all featured at rightback ahead of Montoya. Looking at his inclusion on the bench, the Catalan has been named amongst the subs on only 7 occasions out of the 21 matches across all competitions. The only consolation that Montoya could take is that he has been named as a sub more times than Douglas, if that is in any way a consolation.

The death knell for Montoya’s future at Barca would be the recent 3-1 Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain that clinched top spot in Group F. With Dani Alves unavailable, though it said otherwise on the television graphic of Barca’s XI, Luis Enrique opted to start Pedro in place of the Brazilian. The graphic had Marc Bartra as Alves’ replacement. However, it was clear once the match started that Bartra was playing at centreback instead of out on the right. Pedro was tasked to stay wide on the right to stretch the PSG defence as well as to shuttle up and down the right flank as Alves normally would. Montoya was not even on the bench.

Montoya is certainly not short of the quality required to play for Barca at senior level. Though he does not offer the kind of attacking thrust that Dani Alves provides down the right, the Masia product has thus far proven to be reliable defensively and is decent enough going forward. As the Brazilian declines and is eventually phased out, Montoya could be brought along and as aforementioned take over from Alves in the right-sided slot of Barca’s defence. There would have to be a tweak to the tactical system, with Jordi Alba taking over from Dani Alves as the auxiliary winger and Montoya playing the Eric Abidal to Alba’s Alves. It thus begs the question of why Montoya is currently out of the 1st-team picture at Barca.

He has the quality – both immediately and potential-wise in the long-term – and he knows the Barca philosophy inside-out, having joined the club as an 8-year-old. Going by news reports and the media, there are no major personality/character problems as there have been no scandals or anything of a negative controversial nature written about Montoya. As a Barca supporter, I’d want him to stay and succeed at Camp Nou. However, if things continue as they are, it’s time for him to leave the club and succeed elsewhere. Montoya as Enrique’s 4th choice rightback? Ridiculous. Douglas or Montoya? That’s an absolute no-brainer. You’d hope that that would be the case for Luis Enrique.

If one were to accept what Enrique has said, asking for Montoya to “wait for his opportunity” and to “win it in training”, then Montoya still has the time to turn this situation around and fight his way into Enrique’s plans. While the latter statement is fair, as every player has to train well, how long can Montoya be expected to “wait for his opportunity”? If even Pedro is ahead of him in the pecking order, the time for waiting is over. Having turned 23 earlier this year, Martin Montoya is running out of time to fulfil his potential. Time to go. Buena suerte, Martin.

Written by Mark Ooi

Mark Ooi

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