Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy haven’t had too much success in recent years, but things look to be turning around.
La Blaugrana are keen to restore the importance of their youth setup, and they took another step towards doing that by handing 18-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba a senior debut in their Copa del Rey victory over Cornella.
Moriba has been a regular part of the first-team squad in recent weeks and will likely continue to pick up minutes here and there, so it’s time to get to know the exciting midfielder.
When he turned 16 in January 2019, Moriba looked to sign his first professional contract, and there were no shortage of offers for a player who scouts believed was one of the best in his age group.
Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester City were three of several top sides who were linked with the teenager, and there was a time when Moriba felt as though he wanted to leave Camp Nou, so Barcelona had to go big with their offer.
They offered him a deal worth around £1.7m per year, and unsurprisingly, Moriba couldn’t say no.
Barcelona nearly missed out on securing Moriba’s signature because of an incredible admin error.
Instead of sending their contract offer to Moriba, Barcelona actually sent the paperwork over to the player’s boyhood side Espanyol. According to ESPN, they couldn’t believe the sort of money on offer, joking that Moriba was set to take home more of Espanyol’s senior players.
Fortunately, Espanyol were kind enough to notify Barcelona of their mistake, allowing them to actually get in touch with Moriba in the end.
While most La Masia graduates would prefer to pass their way forward, Moriba prefers to run.
The Guinea-born midfielder’s first thought is to run at defenders, and it’s not uncommon to see them bouncing off his 6’0 frame as he charges his way towards goal.
However, that’s not to say he can’t pass the ball. Moriba does come with impressive vision and has clearly been listening to the coaches at Barcelona. His game isn’t as technical as his team-mates, but it doesn’t need to be.
As is the case with every tall yet technical midfielder, Moriba has long been compared to Manchester United‘s Paul Pogba.
“He’s physically very strong, but he’s also a very intelligent player,” former coach Denis Silva Puig told Bleacher Report. “Most people don’t appreciate this. Here he’s called the ‘Pogba of Barca’ because he’s like a young Pogba, but also he is very, very intelligent—and that is his big potential. He is a top player, no doubt.
“He’s a little bit, maybe modern—in the English football kind of sense. It’s good to have him at Barca. The academy can’t be all about the Riqui [Puig]s or the Monchus—small players with a lot of talent. Football trends change every year, every month, but Ilaix is here not because he is tall or strong, but because he is very good in every facet of the game.”
August 18, 2018. The day Moriba exploded into the limelight.
Previously, Moriba had been a well-kept secret at Camp Nou, but when he fired home a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Real Madrid, the world began to take notice.
He scored a header and a long-range screamer, but the best of the bunch was a goal straight from kick-off, and he’s been making a mockery of defenders ever since.
While Moriba loves the comparisons to Pogba, he credits Barca icons Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta for being the men who inspired him as a child.
He told Mundo Deportivo: “Everyone says I’m like Pogba. I like that, of course I do, but Busquets and Iniesta were the ones who made me want to become a midfielder. Everything I have learned, I have learned from them.”
Since his arrival on the Football Manager database in 2019, Ilaix Moriba has earned somewhat of a cult following on the game.
Barcelona know what they have with the teenager and are prepared to make you pay a huge fee to land him, but whatever they charge you, it ends up being a bargain.
Moriba has the potential to blossom into one of the world’s best midfielders, and given the hysteria around him is only growing, expect that trend to continue for the foreseeable future.