He is considered the biggest promise out of La Masia since Lionel Messi. He became a star at Barça B, and some thought he was ready to play in the big leagues. People within the club weren't really sure, so they loaned him to Everton, so he could gain experience playing in top level competition. Now he's back. And the expectations are high on him.
So, can Gerard Deulofeu live up to all that hope? Is he mature enough to be the young phenom he seemed to be at the young team? Is he ready?
Let's talk about it.
Gerard Deulofeu is 20 years young, so expecting anything from him is already a crazy thing anyway. But he has promised a lot, so we have to look at him and think about what can he potentially be.
First question: can Deulo be a starter right away? The answer is no. His age is not the problem. The problem is that he didn't evolve enough at Everton to show Luis Enrique that he is the immediate replacement for Pedro and/or Alexis if they leave. He has potential, absolutely. But he is not quite ready yet.
Statistically, Deulofeu was somewhat disappointing during his trip to the Premier League. He scored only three times and assisted three more goals in 25 appearances. That's a 10% direct involvement on his team goals. He was only the 17th best Everton player in terms of rating, which means he was no more than a young option to come off the bench and try to change something during games. It worked once, and it was perhaps his best moment as an Everton player: the beautiful goal against Arsenal, in which he scored late in the match to tie it after being subbed in just five minutes earlier.
Deulo was never the favorite Roberto Martínez option, and the fact that the Everton manager started him only nine times shows it. Gerard wasn't the team's best player, not even close. He struggled a lot with the toughest, more physical style of soccer played in England. But he still became a fan favorite. Why? Because of the eye-test stuff.
Deulofeu is the kind of player you want to love. He is like the Daniel Bryan of soccer players. He is a small, fast, talented, incredibly skilled, dribbling machine that can blow by anybody using not his body, but his brain and skills. He's smart, creative, quick and elusive. It's not easy to foul him. Not because he is strong, but because he is so fast that he's already out of reach when defenders try to take him down.
The Blonde Neymar (sorry) is also a very good striker. He has power and accuracy, and his footwork is excellent in terms of adjusting his body to turn a sprint into a shooting motion. It's great to watch. He has the ability of fooling goalkeepers. When he gets in front of the guy, you don't know if he's gonna strike right away or if he'll try to dribble by the keeper to score. You just never know.
But the eye-test also shows us something not too nice. Deulofeu is a TERRIBLE defender. He was the worst tackler -- only 0.3 per game -- of his team among position players. Actually, Tim Howard was worse than him. Tim Howard is Everton's goalkeeper.
Why is Deulo not a good defender? Is he just born to be horrible? Does he have bad timing, and committed so much fouls his coach asked him to stop tackling? Unfortunately, no. I say unfortunately because bad timing is a thing that you can correct with practice and time on the pitch. The issue with Deulofeu is lack of effort. The guy simply just does not want to defend. That's a chronic issue, something that comes with him since Barça B. Although this lack of effort can also be corrected, it's more of an attitude issue than a tactical or technical issue. And this is a tough thing to get around.
If you compared Deulofeu to a famous basketball player, he is easily the James Harden of soccer rising stars. Do you like a guy who can attack like only few but simply doesn't want to defend? You don't need to be good. You just need to try, go for it. He doesn't try. He doesn't go for it.
That is possibly one reason why Luis Enrique will give Rafinha Alcântara more time. Although Deulofeu had a decent enough season in a much tougher league than La Liga - and has a muuuuch higher ceiling than the Brazilian - , Little Rafa is a guy who works his behind off to get better and who defends like crazy. And Lucho loved it at Celta and will really love it at Barça.
You can question whether or not it's really important to defend in a team like Barcelona. But this is Luis Enrique. Defending is also important to him. That's why he has demanded that the front office looked for versatile defenders who can be leaders and strengthen the defensive system. But a defensive system is only effective when all eleven guys are dedicated to it - that's what Atlético Madrid taught us this season -, and Deulofeu is not really encouraging in that respect.
Also, he is the substitute of Neymar. Even though he played most of the time in the right wing at Everton, everybody at Barça knows that the left wing is his most comfortable spot on the field. And it will not be easy to take minutes away from Neymar. He's gonna have to prove himself. Let's make something clear: Deulofeu didn't do enough to earn a significant spot in the squad next season. He will have to work his way up throughout the year, and that could actually be a good thing, for him and the team.
But let's also not forget he is really young, really good, and really promising. He has problems, but if he wants to work on them, he could become a sensational player. For now, he's pretty good. That should be enough as he learns how to get better. But make no mistake about it: he'll be a superstar someday. We just hope this day is not too far away.
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