In an interview for Goal.com in June of 2017, Carles Aleña revealed that growing up teammates used to call him ‘Maradona’ due to his left footed abilities and his 80’s hairstyle that bears a striking resemblance to the Argentine legend. He goes on to say, “I don’t have the same profile as him, but I always took it as a compliment. In any case, I don’t think we can be compared!”
He may be too young to start making comparisons to all-time greats, but it’s impossible to deny this 19 year old’s talent.
Born in the small seaside town of Mataró, only an hour train ride from Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona, Carles Aleña is considered a home grown talent by all standards. After a successful trial with F.C. Barcelona’s youth system at the age of 7, Aleña hasn’t looked back. He has been rising through the ranks since 2005 when he first put on the Blaugrana colours. . In his time with the club, he has made 43 appearances for Barça’s B team and has scored 4 goals.
Aleña made his professional debut with F.C. Barcelona’s first team on November 30th, 2016 at the age of 18. As if that wasn’t enough, in his debut match, a Copa del Rey encounter against Hercules, Aleña scored Barça’s only goal. Talk about a dream debut. Last year, Aleña appeared in 4 matches for Barcelona’s first team, scoring this goal in the process:
His La Masia training is very evident in his playing style, as we can clearly see a mix of some of those past players that have also graduated from F.C. Barcelona’s esteemed academy.
Midfield Support Play
Take his midfield playing style. Throughout his career playing for Barça B, he typically played in the role that we generally see Andres Iniesta play. Aleña plays in that three man midfield as one of the attacking midfielders on the right hand side. When in this role, we see his movements mimic some of the off the ball movement that we would see from Iniesta or Xavi during Guardiola’s time at Barça .
Aleña is constantly moving when not in possession of the ball. Not only that, but he also likes to be within 10-15 yards of the ball. When the ball is on the opposite side, he’ll make movements behind defenders staying out of eyesight of his marker making him a tough man to keep an eye on. When he checks into the space to receive the ball, he’ll find a passing lane and because of the origin of his run from behind defenders, he’ll usually be the free man.
As well as constantly moving, he likes to direct the traffic of play. When he is unable to receive the ball or create space for himself, you’ll see him directing his teammates with hand motions as to where he feels the ball should go to next. Obviously, he is much more comfortable doing this for the reserve team as he is the point man and in many matches the captain. Naturally, when he plays for Barcelona’s first team, he will not be doing this as much as he is a 19 year old who has only been on the big stage for four competitive matches. However, his comfort in being a leader on the pitch will continue growing as he is sure to be getting more time under Valverde.
Along with his off the ball movements, Aleña continually orientates his body towards the next space in order to make his ball interactions more efficient. As you will see in the final video, the moment that he receives the ball he knows exactly where he’s going next by the direction that he is facing when he initially makes contact with the ball. Furthermore, he understands where the pressure will be coming from and when he needs to, he protects the ball by placing his body between the defender and the ball. This simple movement makes it very difficult to take the ball off him.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona_es) June 28, 2017
Constantly correctly positioning himself allows him to be more productive when he is in possession of the ball. Football is a game of space and time. The more space you have, the more time you have. This is why when a team is changing the point of attack, that is to say, moving the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, they must do so as this as efficiently and quickly as possible. Aleña’s correct body orientation and positioning allows him to change the point of attack effectively to give his teammate as much space and time as possible. This, along with his ability to accurately hit a long pass, makes him a crucial piece to any midfield as he is in as he is able to pick out open space on the weak side of the field.
Additionally, Aleña has the spatial and numerical awareness necessary to be a world class midfielder. This type of cognitive ability is very difficult to teach and comes through years of correct player development which exposes players to hundreds and thousands of match situations where the player needs to develop this spatial recognition. This is exactly what La Masia training has done for Aleña, and we can see this type of training bearing fruit in his play.
Aggressiveness in attack
One of the main critiques of Barcelona’s possession based playing style in the past was the lack of verticality they offer throughout matches. In the later years of Guardiola’s time, they became predictable and easy to defend as Mourinho taught us. In recent years, under Luis Enrique with the talents of the MSN trio, we saw a shift to a more vertical attacking playing style. Many Barça traditionalists were outraged exclaiming that the style was drifting too far from what Cruyff and Guardiola had built. Personally, I thought it was a natural solution to teams ‘parking the bus’.
In this new, modern Barça, we see players like Aleña who have the capabilities to play the traditional possession based football, as well as the physical capabilities to attack with speed and play vertical football. Aleña possesses the capacity to control the tempo of the match by deciding when and how the team should play. At times, he recognises the team requires more pauses in their attack and other times he sees the space to attack and play more vertically. Having a midfielder who is able to do this makes the team more dynamic and unpredictable.
As you will see in the video, Aleña attacks space when given the opportunity with speed and control. He has the skill on the ball to dribble and make the final pass running at full pace. Although, having watched many hours of this youngster, I believe this is one aspect of his play which could improve. There are times when he releases the ball too early or too late losing all advantage the team may have had in their quick counter attack. When making that final pass in the final third, the timing of the pass is imperative.
I don’t like to compare players for the simple reason that each player possesses their own abilities and expresses themselves differently. However, when watching Aleña I couldn’t help but see the resemblance between him and Messi. Now, I’m not suggesting that Aleña will ever reach the ungodly level Messi has set, but I do appreciate the similarities between the two players.
To start, they are both left footed and moreover they rarely use their right foot. They corporeally position themselves to be able to take advantage of the skill they possess on their left side.
Secondly, Aleña’s dribbling style is carbon copy to that of the Argentine superstar. They both use quick, short touches exploiting small spaces to move through defenders.
Lastly, Aleña seems to have that innate ability on the ball that Messi has. They both make everything that they do look easy, as if the ball is simply glued to their feet. I encourage you to watch the following video to see what I am referring to.
Simply put, Carles Aleña is a star in the making. Of course, there are so many factors that play into the latter stages of the development of a young player. Additionally, we have to consider the business aspects of a footballer’s career that he hasn’t had to deal with yet. I hope that he is able to manage his rise to stardom with maturity and patience because as we so often see with young stars, they get lost in the shuffle of elite football. Let’s hope for the sake of football that he is able to mature into a talented, well-rounded individual.