One of La Masia’s brightest prospects, Nico González is among the fastest improving youngsters in Barcelona. With a profile that suits Ronald Koeman’s ideas, he was recently drafted into the first team dynamics and has fared brilliantly in both games where he’s played. Even immediate promotion to the first team looks likely, depending on the success of the club’s attempts to sell personnel. However, in spite of a convincing 20/21, there are still questions to be raised regarding his ideal role, position and future at the club. In this overview of his situation, we will try to resolve any uncertainty around Barça’s rising star.
Nico González is privileged not only with natural gift, but also football heritage. His father, Fran, was an integral part of that Deportivo la Coruña side that spread fear all around Europe. And even though he is right-footed unlike his father, Nico has inherited the delicacy of his game. Grace is probably the standout facet out of his numerous qualities. Capable of playing anywhere in midfield, the 19-year-old has been a valuable asset in each age category at La Masia. Tall and vigorous, but also exceptional technically, González possesses superb ball control and vision. His passing is incredibly accurate, while the range of it is also quite astounding. Composure is equally among his greatest traits, as he manages to steer clear of his opponent’s press 24/7. An adept presser, his physique and concentration allow him to dispossess his man with relative ease. From any perspective, González seems a complete package.
Nico begun his inaugural campaign with Barça B as a rotational player. That was no surprise, as the previous campaign was, albeit still impressive, inferior to that of some of his competitors. Nevertheless, step by step, the youngster earned García Pimienta’s confidence with his strong cameos. The latter part of the season proved far more fruitful, as González established himself in the B’s starting XI and never let go of that spot. Operating mostly as an interior, he produced masterclass after masterclass to gain the attention of Ronald Koeman and the board. Reports then begun circulating about the coach’s affection for the youngster and his willingness to give him a chance further down the line. But it’s there that the first doubts appeared.
Pivot or interior?
To many supporters’ surprise, Ronald Koeman’s intention was to use Nico as a defensive midfielder rather than a number 8, which looked like his best position. What was even more so puzzling is the fact that Jandro Orellana, a natural pivot and Barcelona B’s main man, was not called up once under his tenure. Undeniably, Jandro would have been the better option, purely because he is a positional pivot and González isn’t, making him more suited for positional play.
The role of a positional pivot is perhaps the hardest there is. Its demands are so mind-bogglingly specific and subtle that it has become an art only mastered by few individuals. Unfortunately, Nico González does not fit that extremely precise mould, and possibly never will. Jandro Orellana, on the other hand, is a born pivot and would have undoubtedly been the correct choice. But in the end, it looks to come down to one factor: physicality. Ridiculous if you ask me, because neither is the lack of physical dominance a determinant element, nor is it even among Nico’s main strengths.
All of that aside, it’s just Jandro that lost out courtesy of Koeman’s preferences; Nico could also suffer in the course of time. Despite his remarkable adaptability, he will find it difficult to adjust his positioning and spatial awareness. And, essentially, using Nico González as a pivot means going against his nature. His ball-carrying abilities and tendency to roam around the pitch in search of space would barely be put into practice, while simultaneously bringing his aforementioned weaknesses to the surface. Not the most favourable scenario to say the least.
What does the future hold for Nico?
While defensive midfield is not where I ideally see him in the future, he would also face brutal competition as an interior. Double whammy. With the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Pedri firmly among the team’s most important players, as well as the likes of Ilaix Moriba (should he continue) and Gavi coming through, it may seem naive to think Nico González even stands a chance. However, my opinion is quite the opposite. During the last few years, he has made huge leaps to find himself where he is. Unlike other midfielders in La Masia, his early days in La Masia were spent away from the spotlight, maybe to his own benefit. Based on those grounds, it would be foolish to count Nico out.
As with any youngster, we should be patient. Sergio Busquets’ retirement being on the horizon, it would be easy to rush González’s adaptation, which could prove detrimental. We can bet on him, but not as an immediate contender for a starting spot unless various circumstances force Barcelona to do so. Patience and measured actions.
Although he has done well in his first few games in the senior team as a pivot, it would be incorrect to judge him on these two alone. Nico González is someone whose talent and adjustability we should use with care. Truth be told, no one can predict how things may turn out eventually. It’s too early to jump into conclusions, so all we have to do is stay patient. What’s certain is that there is still every reason to remain excited about Nico’s future.