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Time for Ernesto Valverde to let Carles Alena off the leash at Barcelona

The youngster oozed confidence in cameo display

FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Is it time to get excited about a La Masia product again?

Though his was only a cameo role against Villarreal, Carles Alena looked completely at home and settled in the Barca midfield, quickly getting involved and making the game safe on 87 minutes with the deftest of finishes.

It could’ve been Messi applying the coup de grace, and the captain will surely have enjoyed seeing the youngster fire home his first ever in the senior team, from his own immaculate assist.

Alena has spent his entire career at Barcelona and we’ve seen him sporadically in the first team, usually in the earlier rounds of the Copa del Rey.

We can probably expect him to start against Cultural Leonesa in that competition this week, as Ernesto Valverde seeks to give him as much exposure as possible.

There’s certainly a feeling amongst cules that Alena has finally crossed that threshold into senior football, and to this point the player has been a model young professional, going about his business in exactly the right way.

That’s not to say he won’t play for Barca B again, because of course he will, but the first-team call-ups are getting more frequent now.

Perhaps the real issue for Valverde is how often he bloods the youngster.

Post-winter break, there’s a cogent argument that those players who’ve been on the fringes (including Alena) need to be given more trust and more minutes on the pitch.

The fact is, Alena’s ready. That much was clear from the way in which he scored against the Yellow Submarine. It simply oozed confidence.

And he gave the team something different in the short space of time he was on the field. His movement, for example, was sensational, and it’s that kind of maturity in what was, let’s face it, a must-win game, that Barca need from their young players.

The boss surely can’t make the same mistakes as last season or else he runs the risk of another Roma debacle, but the worry for supporters will be, of course, that as we approach the business end of the campaign, Alena’s aspirations are curtailed to an extent.

How much longer he leaves such talent ‘waiting in the wings’ is the type of juggling act that Valverde is paid to successfully manage.

I can certainly accept that the coach is no risk taker in the Pep Guardiola mould, never was and never will be, but Alena’s introduction to life at the sharp end needs to come now. Right now. Whilst his level of performance remains high.

He clearly thrives on the responsibility of being another standard bearer from the academy, just as his contemporary, Sergi Roberto, did.

The utility man is a player whom Alena has often looked up to and alluded to many times when asked about his own lack of match time, suggesting that he’s more than happy to wait for his chance.

But maybe he needs to push hard for that chance, for it’s a fine line between earning your stripes at the right time or not taking/getting that chance at all. Just ask the likes of Sergi Samper, Gerard Deulofeu et al.

Let’s hope Alena doesn’t turn into another ‘what might’ve been.’

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