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Alejandro Balde: Barcelona's 'spectacular' teenage left-back with a €500m release clause

12:00 BST 13/08/2021
Alejandro Balde NXGN GFX
The 17-year-old has impressed for the Blaugrana during pre-season and looks set to start the new campaign as Jordi Alba's primary back-up at Camp Nou

It has not been a week many Barcelona fans will forget in a hurry.

The sight of Lionel Messi parading a Paris Saint-Germain shirt around Parc des Princes will have had culers the world over feeling sick to their stomach, and for good reason.

Messi’s reluctant departure is one of the lowest points of a period in the club’s history that has been littered with forgettable moments both on and off the pitch, and it is difficult to know quite how Barca will deal with life without their long-time talisman.

The tunnel must feel very dark for everyone associated with the Blaugrana at present, but pre-season has shown that there is potentially the smallest glint of light at the end of it.

Aside from the off-field mess at Camp Nou, the Catalans' summer has been defined by the emergence of some of the club’s young stars.

La Masia midfielders Gavi and Nico Gonzalez have both shown enough to suggest that they can be options for Ronald Koeman in 2021-22, while new signing Yusuf Demir may well be the man tasked with replacing Messi in the starting XI for the opening month of the season as more senior stars work their way back to full fitness.

A fourth teenager to have impressed over the course of the summer, meanwhile, is left-back Alejandro - or Alex - Balde, with the 17-year-old having a real chance to be part of the first-team picture over the coming months.

The sale of Junior Firpo to Leeds United has left Jordi Alba as the only recognised senior left-back in the Barca squad, and the financial difficulties facing the club mean that signing a new back-up looks unlikely.

“Balde is perfect for Barca. If they were to look for a full-back in the market, they would sign a player like Balde,” is the opinion of former Barcelona Juvenil A (Under-19s) coach Franc Artiga when speaking to Goal.

“If Alba has to play 60 games and Balde has to play 10 it will be perfect, but right now he is ready to play the type of game where the context is right for him.”

Balde has stood out as a hot prospect ever since joining Barcelona from Espanyol back in 2012.

The youngster, who was born to a Guinean father and a Dominican mother, has leapt over every hurdle that has been placed in front of him, winning the league at every age-group before impressing in his 16 appearances for Barcelona ‘B’ last season.

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Those performances, coupled with Alba’s late return from Euro 2020, saw Koeman entrust Balde with a place in his line-up for Barca’s first friendly of the summer against Nastic de Tarragona.

Sergino Dest could have been switched to the left-hand side in Alba’s absence, but Koeman clearly wanted to get a look at Balde, and the teenager barely put a foot wrong in his 45 minutes on the pitch, albeit against lower-league opposition.

He was rewarded with another start against Girona three days later, and it was here that Barca fans really got to see what Balde is all about.

The homegrown defender was a constant menace going forward, causing the Girona defence countless problems with his direct dribbling style that eventually led to him winning a penalty that Gerard Pique converted.

“He is very powerful and rich in technical ability,” Artiga explains. “In teams that want to attack with full-backs and keep possession, he is a spectacular wide player.

“He has, above all, the physical capabilities needed to play in this type of game. When he sees space ahead of him, he flies forward and gives his team-mates space to play in.”

Despite those strong showings, Balde was relegated to the bench once Alba had returned from his holiday, though he did make further appearances off the bench against both Red Bull Salzburg and Juventus.

That all leaves him in a good position to be included in Koeman’s matchday squad for Barca’s Liga opener against Real Sociedad on Sunday, though that does not mean that his time for developing is over.

“He is very physical, with a huge amount of talent, but tactically he has to improve,” Artiga explains of his former charge. “He plays on impulse, although this is a matter of maturing, of gaining experience, of encountering various match situations.

“I have no doubt that he would do well in the first team, but he hasn’t had the time to mature yet. He also has tactical issues that he has to learn, although I am sure they will come quickly to him.”

Regardless of those issues that still need ironing out, there is no doubt that those fans who believe Balde can be Alba’s long-term successor are onto something.

He is tied to the club until 2024 after signing a new contract at the start of pre-season, and with a €500 million (£423m/$587m) release clause included, it is clear that Barca have a huge amount of belief in his potential too.

“In the end, that is only a matter of time,” Artiga concludes when speaking about the defender making it to the top. “Balde has the conditions for the first team - the club will not find anyone better than him in the market.”

And so while Messi’s shadow will hang over Barcelona for months and, potentially, years to come, life at Camp Nou must go on. Balde and the rest of the club’s talented youngsters can ensure that that future is bright, too.