Spanish Football Transfer Rumours
There are number of reports in the British press suggesting that both Chelsea and Arsenal are keen on securing the services of FC Barcelona's academy graduate Gai Assulin. La Liga Review speaks exclusively to the head of youth development at Barcelona's youth academy 'La Masia'...
The 16 year old Israeli has recently made the step up from the club's youth ranks at 'La Masia' to the Barcelona B team managed by Pep Guardiola, and is currently this season's joint top goal scorer. As the head of youth football at Barcelona, Jose Ramon Alexanco, explained to La Liga Review: "The transition from youth football to our B team has not been difficult for Gai because of our emphasis upon technique rather than physical strength. He is able to gain experience playing and training alongside much older players without being at a disadvantage - he might not have the strength to match these older guys but he certainly has the technique - and Gai has great technique!"
Alexanco, former captain of Barcelona's European cup winning 'Dream Team', speaking exclusively with La Liga Review, described the young Israeli forward as "a classic mediapunto (a number ten) , very creative, likes to take opposition players on and good with both feet but who can finish as well as any striker we have here. He's quick too, very quick."
The young Israeli joined the Barcelona academy in 2004 after catching the eye with his local club Beitar Nes Tubruk F.C. Since signing for Barcelona, Gai has gone on to be spoken of in the same glowing terms as the academy's most recent graduates to the FC Barcelona first team, Bojan Krkic and Messi, and is widely tipped as the next player to make the breakthrough. His pedigree is assured: coming from the same academy that has produced so many household names like Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas alongside the aforementioned Messi and Bojan Krkic.
With Assulin's family having moved to Barcelona to be alongside the youngster as he learns his craft at La Masia, there had been speculation that the player would be eligible to play in the Spanish under-17's and follow in the footsteps of Bojan Krkic. However, Gai has been called up to the full Israeli squad and should feature in their friendly against Chile next week: a sign of the high expectations surrounding the16 year old that his home nation are eager to secure his registration as an Israeli before the Spanish snap him up.
It was whilst filming a feature for Sky Sports Revista de la Liga on 'La Masia' that La Liga Review got to spend the day at Barcelona's prestigious youth academy and took the opportunity to discuss the development of the likes of Gai Assulin with Alexanco and Barcelona B team manager Pep Guardiola. Alexanco confirmed that yes, a number of Premiership clubs have been monitoring Assulin's progression and that yes - Chelsea and Arsenal were amongst those clubs.
Is Alexanco concerned that Gai could follow in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas, Fran Merida and Daniel Pacheco and be lured to the riches of the Premiership? "No," replied the man who has spent most of his football career with the Catalan club and who, you get the impression, finds it hard to understand why anyone would want to be anywhere else. This is the man who had a young Cesc Fabregas in tears in his office when the youngster explained his decision to leave La Masia. Did he try to convince the 15 year old to stay at Barcelona?
"For me it's very simple. You either want to be here or you don't. There are always agents floating about and people offering these kids all sorts of riches - and when they leave it is always about money. What we offer them here is the chance to play for FC Barcelona and if they want to be a part of that, if they share our philosophy then I want them to be here. If they don't want to be here - they can leave." replied Alexanco.
So, as many of the e-mails we have received here at La Liga Review want to know - will Gai Assulin be the next young star to leave Barcelona for the Premiership? Well, as Alexanco explained there has been interest from both Arsenal and Chelsea so that much is true. However, it is also no coincidence that Assulin is currenly with the Israeli national team and therefore not far away from the influence of his agent, Pini Zahavi: perfectly understandable, then, that these stories should emerge at the same time.
Zahavi, of course, has very strong links with Chelsea and he has done countless business deals with Abrahamovich and the London club in the past. The Israeli agent also represents Giovanni Dos Santos, another player who's name has been linked with Chelsea and the premiership in the last seven days, as Zahavi attempts to negotiate a lucrative deal for his player.
Make of it all what you will: Perhaps Zahavi needs another yacht and is stirring up interest in the media to pressurise Barcelona, or maybe Chelsea and Arsenal are genuinely about to unveil another Fabregas. Either way, one thing is for certain, La Masia will continue to produce these outstanding young players and while they do, their agents will ensure that they continue to be linked with Premiership clubs. And that, as Alexanco says: "Is football these days."