Following last night's Copa del Rey win over Deportivo Alaves, in which Tito Vilanova opted to start both Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto ahead of Jonathan dos Santos, I wonder what the future holds for the young Mexican
Life must be tough as a Canterano at Barcelona. It must be difficult watching your teammates; your friends get the chance in the first team that you so desperately want. Maybe they are getting the chance in the first team that you feel you deserve, but what can you do? This is a club that you love; a club you feel that you owe the world to. They gave you this chance after all: the chance to make a name for yourself, the chance to learn from some of the best in the world. No-one would throw that away; you wouldn’t want to seem ungrateful after all these years. But there’s still that dilemma: you want to make a difference with the club, but with opportunities running scarce that may not be possible. So, when exactly do you put yourself first and start looking for a new club?
Life is tough for Jonathan dos Santos. Plucked from obscurity with his brother Giovani at a youth tournament in France, JDS has been an integral part of many a youth team at FC Barcelona. Working his way up from Juvenil A to the B team and beyond, the future was looking bright for the young Mexican. Here we had a boy who seemed like a perfect fit for the Barcelona system. Sure, he lacked in physique, but as we well know, it takes more than that to discourage the coaches at La Masia, what’s important is technique and Jonathan had that in spades.
Composed in possession, with a superb first-touch; JDS was a natural in the centre of midfield. Boasting exceptional vision, Jonathan was equally at home at pivote or in a central midfield role and during his time with the club, he has excelled in both positions. Largely a regista for the newly-promoted B team, JDS was basically the "Xavi" in Luis Enrique’s side, where his main objective was to keep the mini-Blaugrana in possession, or to help out Oriol Romeu and the defense whenever necessary. It was role where he thrived, helping Luis Enrique’s side to a historic third place finish, competing in the joint-third most matches behind Nolito and Jonathan Soriano.
As Enrique left the club to take up the vacant managerial role at AS Roma, it appeared as though JDS would not continue with the B team, who were now managed by the legendary Dream Team midfielder, Eusebio Sacristan. Thanks to a string of encouraging performances throughout pre-season, Jonathan started the campaign juggling his time between the B team and Pep Guardiola’s first team, making a substitute appearance in the Blaugrana’s 5-0 opening day victory over Villarreal just days after completing the 90 minutes in Barca B’s opening fixture against Huesca. However, his time with the senior squad was short-lived and the Mexican soon returned to a full-time role in the Segunda. It was there that Jonathan’s role changed under Eusebio, as he switched from that "Xavi-esque" position into a slightly deeper role in a double-pivot. Typically positioned alongside Javier Espinosa or Marti Riverola, the onus fell on JDS to pick up the slack in midfield and as a result the Mexican became more balanced, and a better-all round midfielder. If and when he featured with the first team, Jonathan was typically used as a pivote or as a utility man, capable of filling in any and every positional gap – not that it mattered, as it was abundantly clear that Guardiola was content with his options in midfield. Plus, if anyone was going to make the step-up to the first team, then surely it was going to be Sergi Roberto?
While it may not have played out that way in terms of squad status as JDS was finally promoted during the summer, one could argue that Sergi Roberto is and will be the new starlet in midfield. Despite a number of injuries, Jonathan’s cameo appearance during the weekend’s win over Rayo Vallecano was the Mexican’s first taste of competitive action this season – and that’s in spite of the sacrifices that he made to fight for his place in Tito Vilanova’s squad. Jonathan turned down a place in Mexico’s gold-medal winning Olympic squad to feature in Barca’s pre-season and it’s also reported that he turned down an offer from Sevilla to remain in Catalunya for at least the first half of the season. So, bearing those sacrifices in mind, I and many others, fully expected the Mexican to start in last night’s Copa del Rey win over Deportivo Alaves.
Instead, Tito Vilanova opted for Sergio Busquets at pivote, and Sergi Roberto as a regista (despite the B team’s upcoming fixture with Huesca), leaving Jonathan on the bench. Sure, the Mexican did feature off the bench in another encouraging cameo performance, but the damage had already been done. Now, more so than ever, it is clear that the club aren’t quite ready to trust Jonathan with a spot in the first team. Sergi Roberto on the other hand, is staking his claim for a place in the senior squad and at current, JDS would be the one to make way. With the January transfer window fast approaching, maybe it’s time for Dos Santos to start considering his options – I hear Mallorca’s nice at this time of year...