Today Ibrahim Afellay was officially welcomed to FC Barcelona, and tomorrow will be presented publicly to the fans. The deal was already finalized on November 15, 2009, and honestly, I think many of us had even forgotten about him until today. With the way this team is going at the moment, nobody can say we look like we miss much, but more on that a bit later.
Afellay was born April 2, 1986 (24 years old) in Utrecht, The Netherlands. As his name suggests, he is of Moroccan decent, but is all in all Dutch. Afellay joined PSV Eidenhoven at the age of 10 and made his official debut for the club in 2004 at the age of 17. It didn’t take long for him to win over the PSV fans with glaringly obvious natural talent and an entertaining style of play. In his 7 year career at PSV “Ibi” (as he is known in Eindhoven) scored 35 goals (with 13 as a season best) in 159 official matches, and contributed many assists. In that time his presence was key in PSV winning 4 Eredivisie (Dutch league) titles. He has also been a large part of the Dutch setup since his debut in 2007 and has racked up 31 international caps despite heavy competition from the likes of Robben, Van der Vaart, and Sneijder.
For those that keep an eye on global football, Afellay has been a hot name for quite some years now. He is known for great technique and a natural flair for attacking. He is a skillful dribbler, rather quick, and enjoys a direct game which sees him take on his man and unsettle defenders. Over the years though, he has improved his passing ability and other areas, which has seen him used often in the middle, as opposed to his natural position on the wings. He works hard and is strong with both feet. He is a player that can score a nice individual goal and a few long-range shots too, which is one thing in particular I’m personally hoping he can contribute to our team.
So those are the facts, and now for a bit more debate. His signing cannot have had too many cules jumping out of their seat, which is in no way Afellay’s fault. We just have a really fabulous team, and honestly, I do not see Afellay being better than any of our starters. Some have been worried the squad is slightly too light in numbers, so this signing for sure adds great quality depth wise. Also, “Ibi” (I think this will catch on in Spain quite nicely) is very versatile. He can take up both wings, or slot into a more central role if needed. In games where teams are ultra defensive (i.e. most games), his ability to beat a defender and create will come in handy, and hopefully some long-range efforts too. And also, he came pretty damn cheap. Estimated at 3-4 million Euros, that is a bargain for his caliber and versatility in today’s football markets. So economically, this is the opposite of monsieur Ibrahimovic.
Still I, and I’m sure many, are wondering how much he is going to play, barring Copa matches and injuries. Guardiola is a fan of keeping a pretty consistent set of starters and I simply do not see him replacing anybody, including Pedro. Just look at Mascherano, Argentinean captain and a defensive midfielder many consider in the top 2 or 3, he barely gets a game over the impressive Busquets and even Pep favorite Keita seems to make more sub appearances. Even the versatile Adriano, who really was a very good player at Sevilla for many years, couldn’t even get into the Copa game midweek. Not to mention our club’s and Pep’s strong belief in the cantera philosophy, aka Thiago and Dos Santos. But one would assume he is going to get games over someone like Jeffren.
So that’s where we are now, and only time will tell what feats Afellay will reach at Barca. Thus far, I must say I’m optimistic and think it’s a very solid signing. Cruyff wrote an article a few days after it was confirmed he joined saying he felt “Ibi” has what it takes to succeed at the Camp Nou. Now Rosell may not love Cruyff, but I take his football related comments quite seriously. Players such as Van Bommel, former blaugrana Gabri, and Barca legend Ronald Koeman gave similar endorsements (for whatever that is worth to you). One very clever thing Cruyff pointed out was that Afellay is 24. He isn’t some fresh raw talent that gets thrown too early into the big time. He’s had time and experience to mature.
The way his former club sent him off in a great tribute against Roda on the 20th also gives us insight into his character. He walked onto the pitch for his last time as PSV captain and the fans gave him the loudest of receptions and wished him only success and luck in this new part of his career, which is a refreshing change from most football transfers. Today in his interviews Afellay did the usual “this is a dream come true”, and “I’m at the best club in the world”, but the most realistic thing he said was “I’m very happy, but also a bit nervous”. And I’d say that’s the right attitude to have, he should be ecstatic at joining us, but the fact he is nervous alludes to his understanding that his place in this team is far from secured and he is going to have to work very hard both physically and mentally if he wants to truly be part of this historic Barca side.
I truly wish him the best of luck and am excited to see what the future holds.