Samuel Umtiti has impressed in his first few matches for FC Barcelona after being signed from Lyon. The centerback has done so well that there is reason to believe he has already usurped Javier Mascherano in Barcelona's starting XI, or at least, he's getting closer and closer and closer.
What has made Umtiti such an instant success? Well, of course, he's a supremely talented footballer. He's fast, tall, and skilled on the ball, and as we are seeing - he's quite smart and learns quickly. But he has a secret weapon too, he's been an FC Barcelona fan all along and has watched the team for years. That's according to both an interview with Cadena SER and a report from Ferran Martínez.
The Cameroonian-born French international's commitment is also seen in his decision to live close to the Ciutat Esportiva, Barcelona's training ground, and his desire to learn Spanish. He said he likes the language and uses it more every day.
"I had never before visited the Camp Nou," he admitted, "and jokingly I would say, 'if I ever get there, it will be as a player. And my dream came true.'"
In his days at the Lyon academy, he would record Barcelona matches during the Frank Rijkaard - Samuel Eto'o - Ronaldinho era when he was playing so he could watch them later.
At the beginning of this year, Umtiti became aware that Barcelona were interested. He started watching Barcelona matches even more closely, specifically analyzing the movements of Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano.
He also started to practice Spanish more, something he had picked up a little in school, and spoke with his teammate, former Málaga player Sergi Darder.
When his dream move came through, "Big Sam" admitted he became emotional: "I even cried a little."
Now, he's getting praise from Luis Enrique for his quick adaptation. The boss said he saw Umtiti playing for Barcelona as comfortably as he did at Lyon, as if he had been there for much longer that he actually had.
The player reminds Barcelona fans of Éric Abidal, another left-footed French defender who made his mark playing for Lyon before arriving at the Camp Nou. But Abidal himself says Umtiti will surpass him.
Meanwhile, Umtiti is starting to pick up some words in Catalan. He already understands Spanish enough to take questions from the media without translation, though he answers mainly in French. One gets the feeling maybe he could answer in Spanish if he wanted to, but isn't confident enough yet to do so. But every day he's becoming more and more an entrenched figure at the club. Let's hope he continues on the right path.