So far, Emmanuel Amuneke and Gbenga Okunowo are the only Nigerians who have played for FC Barcelona’s A team. A few others have had trials with the B team. Last week, the Nigerian media celebrated Rio Olympics bronze medalist, Usman Muhammed, as he was officially unveiled by Barcelona B team. Kunle Adewale asks if it’s not just sightseeing for another Nigerian player after Ezekiel Bassey, unveiled in February was shown the exit door at the Catalans
Usman Muhammed was officially unveiled as a player of Barcelona on July 1, as he joined the B team on a free transfer after his contract expired at Portuguese side, Uniao Madeira. After impressing the handlers of the B team during a short trial last season, he was handed a deal which would see him start off with the B team of the La Liga side before hopefully progressing through the ranks to the main team.
The news about the interest of the Catalans in the Nigerian star first broke in May after Pep Segura, the head of Barcelona’s Professional Phase expressed an interest in the player.
Segura oversees the development of players at both La Masia Academy and Barcelona B team.
Muhammed would start off in the B team of the club.
Segura noted that the player had distinctive qualities which attracted interest from the club. Some of the mentioned attributes include physical presence and ability to play different position in the midfield.
Muhammed and other fringe players are expected to report a week earlier than their established team-mates as Barcelona Team A Manager, Ernesto Valverde, would use those seven days to decide which of them will join their USA Tour.
In February this year, former Enyimba of Aba player, Ezekiel Bassey moved to Barcelona B team on an initial six-month loan deal, with a provision to make it permanent for a two-year duration but very little was heard of him after his unveiling.
Indeed, former Super Eagles midfielder, Mutiu Adepoju, said recently that he was uncertain about the future of Bassey at Barcelona as he didn’t play a single game for the Barca B team after they got promoted to the Segunda division.
“I have not heard much about him, I know he went on loan to Barcelona and I believe the loan period has expired in June. I don’t know what will happen because it depends on Barcelona, he was on loan so that Barcelona can see him. I don’t know if he had satisfied them in what they were looking for,” Adepoju said.
Bassey who joined on loan from Enyimba has been told he won’t be offered fresh terms and the striker has even started moves to leave the club as he is expected to arrive Turkey in the coming days to hold talks with Osmanlispor.
In a chat with THISDAY, Head Coach of Barcelona Football Academy-FCBESCOLA, in Lagos, Bernal Villa, said inasmuch as he agreed that there were a number of talented players in Nigeria, for them to make it to Barcelona team, they must first understand the club’s philosophy and be ready to work very hard.
“It’s not just about having the natural talent. Since my arrival in Nigeria, I have seen a lot of good players that are on very good level. But the most important thing is for these players to be in good physical condition as their counterparts in Europe and if they can understand how we work and train at Barcelona, which is our methodology, in few years, some of them can make it to good clubs in Europe and eventually their national team,” Villa said.
Asked about the major difference between an average Nigerian player and their European counterparts, Villa said, “The kids here are more of individual players, though they have good skills but they have problems technically and collectively. They are too individualistic; they always think they can take on their opponents and go alone with the ball and finish the ball by themselves. We have to make them realise they should play with the team.
“It not enough to be unveiled by Barcelona because that is when the real work begins. It’s not the time to shout hurray and go to sleep. It is the time to prove you can learn and adapt fast to the club’s philosophy, which is the bane of most Nigerian players have come across.”
Recalling his time at Barcelona to THISDAY, former Nigerian international, Gbenga Okunowo, said a player’s ability and composure with the ball are important during trials.
“In 1997, I was part of the team that represented the country in the Meridian Cup in Portugal and it was from there the scouts of Barcelona Football Club spotted me. They invited me for a week trial after the tournament after which I was invited for another round of one week trial, and after four days of training with the team, I was given a contract by the club and signed to their youth team. After then, Xavi Hernandez introduced himself to me as being a member of the Spanish team that lost to Nigeria in the Meridian Cup.
“Barcelona loves players that are very comfortable with the ball even when they are under pressure, which is a key factor to play for Barca, aside being skillful. The club would therefore not hesitate to dump a player as quickly as possible if he does not possess these attributes,” Okunowo noted.
Former Barcelona winger, Emmanuel Amuneke, attributed high “mental speed” of the players as the main reason behind the club being at top level, saying the club would still dominate for a long time.
“I am glad to have been part of the great club in my active days in football, but the present generation is far better than my era when the likes of Guardiola, Ronaldo de Lima, Patrick Kluivert and Rivaldo were the star players of the side.
“When you look at this present generation, their mental speed is very high and gives them the ability to read their surroundings and make accurate passes on the field. When a group of players play cohesively and have field vision far greater than other teams, there is no doubt that they will be a terror to other competitors,” Amuneke said.
It remains to be seen how well Mohammed would adapt to Barcelona’s philosophy and mental speed, just as Nigerian soccer fans would be hoping he would not be shown the exit door as his other Nigerian contemporary.
He represented Nigeria at the Rio 2016 Olympics where Nigeria won bronze, thanks to his midfield combo with captain John Obi Mikel in almost all of Nigeria’s game at the Olympics.
The player start off with the B team who are now going to campaign in the second division after securing promotion via the play offs at the end of last season.
This is the second time in six months a Nigerian player has joined the Catalans.
With the transfer window open and players starting to return for pre-season training, below is what each Premier League club has done so far this summer. The window swung open in England on June 9 – though some deals only became official on July 1 – and sides have until August 31 to finalise their signings for the new campaign. However, while some teams have been quick off the mark in recruiting new players, others have been lagging behind as they look to make their first captures of the season