Where Barcelona’s summer has again been dominated by the complicated chase for Cesc Fabregas, and Pep Guardiola’s decision between Giuseppe Rossi and Alexis Sanchez for the attack, one ‘new’ signing has seemingly slipped under the radar.
Promoted from the B team alongside pre-season wonder Thiago Alcantara is Andreu Fontas, a tall, left-footed centre-back described as humble, hard-working and importantly, patient.
Without needing to meet the player you can get a sense of the latter two attributes. Summer 2009 was seen as Fontas’ opportunity to move to the first team, but it is a full two years later through progress with the Barcelona B team that he finds himself confirmed in the senior squad.
Having spent both phases of 2009’s pre-season with Pep Guardiola’s team, amid media attention of his ‘revelatory’ form at the end of 2008-09 with the B team, Fontas then saw Dmytro Chygrynskiy sign two days before the season kicked off, ending suggested hopes of the youngster’s immediate first-team push.
Fontas was still given his debut in the team’s first home match of that campaign, replacing Gerard Pique for a six-minute cameo against Sporting Gijon, but subsequently moved back down to Luis Enrique’s B team, only twice more appearing on the senior bench in 2009-10.
The youngster was ahead of schedule and had yet to complete specific phases of training all La Masia graduates must go through, but such was the promise he had shown, he still remained on the edge of first-team action in 2009 but for that late transfer activity. Almost two years on, with all three stages of his Barcelona education complete, and having spent a third successive pre-season with the first team, both Fontas and Barcelona appear ready for each other.
Fontas rose to prominence when after developing at local club Derportiu Banyoles, a year on loan at Tercera Division side Girona FC saw him break into their first team at just 17, even though he had joined predominantly for youth team action. Atletico Madrid and Espanyol came in for the youngster at the end of this spell, but it was Barcelona who picked up the player, placing him in their Juvenil A category from 2007-08.
A year at this level was followed by three with the B team, and whilst his first season in Enrique’s squad saw him struggle to initially gain playing time, his work in training earned a starting spot for the final three months of the 2008-09 campaign, and the subsequent first pre-season action with Guardiola. In the B team’s first season back in the Segunda Division, Fontas had managed to break up the successful then-three-man defence of Alberto Botia, Joni Lopez and Hector Verdes, in turn displacing players three years older than him for a starting spot.
His form also earned a call-up to Spain’s Under-20 squad for 2009’s Mediterranean games, where a squad including the likes of Ander Herrera, Jose Angel and Dani Perejo won the tournament, whilst he also took part in Spain’s Under-20 World Cup campaign later that same year.
Born: November 14, 1989 (Banyoles, Catalonia)
Position: Left-sided centre-back / left-back / defensive midfielder
Height: 6ft1 Weight: 89kg
Key attributes: Positional intelligence, comfort in possession, anticipation of play
Previous clubs: Derportiu Banyoles, Girona FC
Barcelona debut: August 31, 2009 vs. Sporting Gijon
Beyond this and the subsequent brief flirtations with the first team, Fontas consolidated his place as a crucial member of Enrique’s successful B team for 2009-10 and 2010-11. In a side set up to mirror Guardiola’s tactics, he crucially becoming the only defender to maintain a starting place and preferred position as Enrique shuffled others around. Enrique’s selection policy was aimed at giving a fair chance to everyone, and in different positions on the pitch, but with his defence, it had become ‘Fontas and three others’.
Whilst impressing here – and only missing games through injury or call-ups to Guardiola’s team – it is important to note that Fontas was doing so having undergone a positional switch at the club. He developed at Banyoles and Girona as a midfielder and his initial work at Barca was in a Sergio Busquets-style defensive-midfield role. However, such was his capability on the ball and positional sense in the back-line, Barca’s Coaches opted for the switch to centre-back.
Indeed, Ricardo Rodriguez – who worked with Fontas at Girona before a stint as Malaga’s sporting director – described the 6ft1 left-sided player as a intelligent, ball-playing midfielder with a lethal shot on him. Still described as able to initiate play with long, low and accurate passes in any direction, the player maintains that creative streak to his play, perhaps best demonstrating it to Barca’s fans during his first start for the senior side. Facing Almeria in November 2010, the centre-back provided a raking, 30-yard cross-field pass for Pedro to net the team’s fourth in their 8-0 win.
This assist and first start came from playing as a left-sided centre-back, but such is his ability to switch positions, that his temporary promotion to the team at the end of last season saw him take three different roles. In light of Eric Abidal’s diagnosis with a liver tumour and Carles Puyol and Gaby Milito’s struggles with fitness, Fontas’ five appearances from April 2011 was initially with centre-back cover in mind. However, his four League starts and one substitute appearance were with spells as centre-back, left-back and defensive midfielder.
Where Fontas plays in 2011-12 remains open, with two options still apparent as the end of pre-season approaches. Whilst the club have announced his promotion to the first team and awarded him a new contract – with a raised buy-out clause of €30m – there remains interest from other clubs. It is interest that is thought likely to tempt a club that has made it clear so far this summer that it needs to sell players to raise funds for significant purchases. How much the Catalans want Fabregas may indirectly involve consideration of how much they want Fontas.
Should Fontas remain with the team as Guardiola wants, his versatility may dictate where his predominant activity takes place. Left-back has been an area of the pitch the club have so far unsuccessfully targeted through the market, and is where Fontas has played most of pre-season in. Maxwell has been placed on the market and Abidal has been signposted for use as a centre-back, in all opening up the left-wing for the last stage of Fontas’ Barcelona football education.
Wherever the 21-year-old finds himself next season, there is an air of anticipation similar to that surrounding Thiago, that this youngster will more than take his opportunity, one earned through patience and hard work.
Andreu Fontas and Thiago Alcantara have made the grade in 2011, but which Barcelona B team players are likely to follow them to future Blaugrana first team involvement?
Rafa Alcantara, 18 – Thiago’s brother, Rafael is an 18-year-old left-sided attacking midfielder who has just been promoted from Juvenil A to the B team for 2011-12. Otherwise known as Rafinha, he has been capped at three different levels for the Spanish national team. He is a more physically imposing and faster player than his older brother, and is seen as European in his style of play and tactical awareness.
Marc Muniesa, 19 – Fontas’ main centre-back partner, Muniesa has also been involved in Pep Guardiola’s last three pre-season campaigns, and represents an equally versatile player. Key strengths include anticipation and distribution of play. Another left-sided defender, Munie