COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Ezekiel Bassey’s move to Barcelona B on Tuesday took many by surprise. The winger, previously on the books of seven-time league champions Enyimba, signed on an initial six-month loan deal, with a provision to make it permanent for a two-year duration.
Barcelona B of course compete in Spain’s Segunda B, the equivalent of the third-tier. Looked at that way, it is hard to get excited about such a move. However, this is no ordinary third division side. By virtue of being Barcelona’s farm team, the move affords him the opportunity of training alongside the world’s best players.
Barcelona may have recently moved away from their prominent home-grown bias, with most of their recent acquisitions for big money and sourced from without, but this still presents the player with a great opportunity. Even players who do not make the step-up often land on their feet. Barcelona remains respected enough in terms of youth development that clubs have been known to shop in the B team.
Adama Traore, pace and frustration in equal measure at Middlesbrough, is one such case; it is unlikely Barcelona will go back in for him in the future. Still, he can have no complaints with his current estate.
Bassey therefore cannot lose, but what direction he takes is entirely dependent on whether he can take to his new surroundings as comfortably as he did at Enyimba. The 20-year-old joined the two-time African champions from Akwa United at the start of the 2014/2015 season with a reputation as one of the league’s rising stars.
His speed and quick feet made him a prized asset—the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) is uncompromisingly physical, and there is a great emphasis on man-marking, so players who excel in one-on-one situations are in high demand.
It was Enyimba though who won the race to sign him, but even they would not have expected bang for their buck so soon. While most had expected Mfon Udoh, who set the record for league goals, with 23, the previous season to push on and power the team’s challenge, it was new signing Bassey who was at the heart of much of the play going forward.
Starting on the left and dribbling diagonally infield, Bassey was a constant menace whenever he started, reaching double figures for assists in his debut season for the club. Enyimba secured a record seventh title, and Bassey was their player of the season.
However, he was unable to consolidate on that splendid opening season. A coaching change saw him fall somewhat out of favour, and a spate of niggling injuries did not help his cause.
However, he made his international debut for Nigeria in November 2015 in a World Cup qualifier against Swaziland, a tacit admission of his ability whenever fit. He had a sub-par tournament at the CHAN the following January though, struggling to make an impact as Nigeria exited in the Group Stage.
However, his involvement in the NPFL’s La Liga tour in August once again put him in the spotlight, and has culminated in this move.
Barcelona get a player with insanely quick feet and an impressive repertoire of dribbles and step-overs. He is unmistakably stronger on his right foot, but will not shy away from going on his weaker left. Unlike most young pacy wingers, he is neither small nor frail, and this is both a strength and a weakness.
On the one hand, he is hard to bully off the ball, but on the other he does not have that ability to weave and duck between challenges that smaller players have. As a result, he wins a high volume of fouls.
If there is a worry about him, it is the streak of ostentation that runs through his football as well as his personal life, as a cursory examination of his social media profiles will reveal. His decision-making is often problematic, as he indulges one too many dribbles, and prefers to put the defender on the back foot and provoke a foul rather than pass when he sometimes should.
His finishing is also a part of his game that remains indecisive: his technique in striking at goal is limited, and will have to be worked on extensively.
As it stands, he has a six-month window within which to convince the coaches at Barcelona he is worth a further punt. If he gets his head down, there is little to suggest he will fail to make the grade.