SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - APRIL 30: Thiago of FC Barcelona (R) fights for the ball against Antoine Griezmann of Real Sociedad during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad and Barcelona at Estadio Anoeta on April 30, 2011 in San Sebastian, Spain. Real Sociedad won 2-1. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Keita, Alves, Eto'o, Adriano. Even in recent years alone, the list of top targets Barcelona have acquired from other clubs in Spain goes on and on. The club's ability to combine stars from their La Liga rivals, talent from the World over, and the latest products of the La Masia conveyor belt has been the catalyst to the consistent success of Pep Guardiola's current charges. Here is a look at two of La Liga's most exciting youngsters who could be in for a move to Los Cules in the proceeding months:
Kiko Femenía, Hércules
Femenía is an exciting young winger who has come through the youth ranks at Hercules and made over 70 league appearances despite his tender age of 20. He has a €10m release clause, although the rumoured compensation for him has been more like €4m plus a B team player on loan.
Since his debut at the start of their 09/10 promotion winning season, Kiko has been a mainstay in the Alicante club’s lineup while appearing regularly for Spain at an underage level. He is a very versatile player, having made the breakthrough into the first team setup at right back but then switching to the wingerrole in which he starred this year, and could probably slot further up the pitch as an inside forward in Barca’s 4-3-3 without too much difficulty.
Femenía’s first top flight game was notable. After coming on as a sub in the second half, his nerves got the better of him, and he found himself barely able to complete a pass or control a ball. Suffering from an anxiety attack, his veteran teammate and former La Masia product Francisco Rufete prowled the touchline, screaming encouragement and reminding him to breathe. After such a turbulent start to the campaign, Femenía settled and began to consistently put in the performances that had warranted previous interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Valencia.
Finishing the season with a goal and six assists from only 21 starts, Kiko’s biggest asset is undoubtedly his pace for which the majority of La Liga defences will have little answer to, especially in open space. A concern would be that, as for some young players with his kind of speed, other technical weaknesses glossed over and made less obvious due to the space and time which such speed affords a player. Such negatives would then easily be exposed at a club like Barcelona. However the young winger has shown plenty of ability to pick a cross and can dribble past even the best of fullbacks, so while Femenía is still far from the finished product, he is definitely a well rounded player for his age.
Due to the multitude of reports suggesting it, this is a rumoured transfer that I think Barcelona fans can expect to go through this summer. Femenía would, especially if he suffers from problems with nerves again, probably be best used sparingly in the first team from the outset; gaining confidence and match experience in the Mini Estadi if he doesn’t appear to be immediately cut out for the rigours of turning out in front of eighty-thousand or more every week. A good fit for him would probably be as a direct replacement for Jeffren, whose departure seems highly likely. He plays in a similar position but is younger with as much potential, and would thrive if eased into the sort of depth role Jeffren played last season, with a view to more and more playing time as he improves. Femenía certainly has the potential to make the leap, but is he mentally ready to pull on the Barcelona shirt? If he does move, only time will tell.
Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad
Griezmann is another young wide player who shares some similarities with the aforementioned Hercules man. Also 20, he too starred in the Segunda before making the scouts from top clubs stand up and take notice with his quick adaption to the top division.
As a young teenager, France’s top clubs decided that while he was clearly technically talented, his slight frame meant he probably wouldn’t make it. Ligue 1’s loss was Real Sociedad’s gain when Griezmann successfully came through the club’s youth system, and not allowing his diminutive stature to stop him from contributing 13 league goals in his two seasons with the first team, finishing this year as joint top scorer at the club. He plays generally on the left of a 451 where the combination of his talents on one wing and the superb Xabi Prieto on the other was what kept the side out of the relegation dogfight that developed as the season progressed.
As well as domestically, Griezmann has shone on the international stage with his native France – starring for the U19 side which overcame Thiago’s Spain to lift the European U19 Championship last year on home soil; and will be displaying his talents again, in Colombia, at the end of Summer during the U20 World Cup. If he continues to impress, it is only a matter of time before Laurent Blanc and the senior side come calling.
Due to his adaptability and experience (having played as a striker, a more advanced attacking midfielder, and on the wing) combined with his pace and eye for goal; Griezmann is in the ideal mould for the wide forward role in Barca's famed system and has shown some ability to cut inside and fashion chances for himself. He is a player with the explosiveness to beat any defender; but also possesses a potent delivery, providing more pinpoint crosses than his small assists number would suggest. Moreover, the 20 year old can bring with him a powerful shot and his penchant for a magnificent celebration, as evidenced during a game with Deportivo earlier this season when he and his teammates hopped into a pitch-side car after the Frenchman netted. Repeating such exploits would certainly endear him to the Camp Nou support.
When it appeared the Alexis Sanchez signing was becoming less likely, Griezmann was identified by the Spanish press as a possible alternative who Pep Guardiola saw something in. The Sanchez situation has since improved (although confusion still reigns over its stage) and Griezmann was recently less receptive to a possible move to Los Cules than the majority of the World’s footballers would be when quizzed by the Catalan press. "I have to play and I don't want to be a substitute. That's why I prefer to stay one or two more years at Real Sociedad.", he declared to Sport.
Guardiola himself singled the winger out for praise, stating "Considering it’s his first season in La Liga, he’s done some fantastic things". It is clear that while this season may be a little early for Griezmann to consider a move, he will certainly be placed firmly on Barcelona’s radar as long as his swashbuckling performances for the Basque side continue and a deal could be accelerated if interest in him hots up from other potential destinations. His release clause sits at a pricey €30m and Sociedad will certainly be reluctant to sell, but a deal sweetened with the inclusion of a few other Blaugrana youngsters could prove impossible for the San Sebastián side to resist.
Follow me on Twitter @NotTooXavi