June 24, 2022

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La Masia doesn’t produce many die-hard strikers; number nine who averages around a goal every game at youth level. Reduced playing midfielders and strikers, yes – they got them out of their ears at the Barcelona academy. But top strikers are rather rare in Catalonia’s most famous football school.

So when the Blaugrana sat down with Iker Bravo and his agents to discuss the possibility of tying the 16-year-old to a contract in the summer of 2021, they knew they had to keep him in the building.

Like so many things that have happened at Barcelona in recent years, however, they failed to make a successful landing.

A year on, Bravo can look back on a first season at Bayer Leverkusen in which he made his professional Bundesliga debut, and impressed enough to warrant spending pre-season with the first team.

Despite Barca’s increased reliance on youth products over the past two seasons, that same path to the top tiers was apparently not there for Bravo, hence his decision to leave.

He and his family entered the talks expecting to stay at the club he had been with since he was five, but while Barca focused on the economics of the deal, they didn’t. were unable to sell Bravo on the project they had planned for him.

Like so many youngsters in the modern game, Bravo realized that German football could offer him the path he so desired, and he had an immediate impact.

His two first-team appearances – one in the league and one in the DFB-Pokal – were the reward for a campaign that saw him score 10 goals in 17 official youth team games.

“It was not planned for him to make his debut this season,” said Alberto Encinas, Leverkusen’s assistant coach who previously worked at La Masia. OBJECTIVE of Bravo’s first campaign. “Now he will start the pre-season with us and officially enter the dressing room. It will be very good for him to be close to the first team.

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“He has a pretty complete player profile,” Encinas continues, “because he’s not just a goalscorer. He, of course, has great finishing ability and movement in the penalty area, but due of his Barca career, he can also drop deeper to recycle possession as an additional midfielder.

“He has this dual profile – he’s not just a striker in the region, but he also combines that with other skills.”

Despite Bravo’s strong start to life at the BayArena, his raw stats tell the story of a player whose goal tally has dipped slightly, although that doesn’t come as a surprise to Encinas.

“I remember him being a top player at Barca,” he recalls. “When things were bad, he always asked for the ball and was able to pull the car on his own.

“This year he had more mental ups and downs, but that’s completely normal. He’s 17 years old and had a big change in his life: leaving home for a new country, a new language, a different culture, another way of playing, it’s normal that his game suffers.

“At Barca he was more dominant because the team had more ball, but the overall development of his game here has been positive. Being at Leverkusen made him a better player, because the coaches put him in a different context, and sometimes made him a little uncomfortable, but it allowed him to learn by being in new game situations.”

Bravo was certainly able to show off some of those new skills for Spain at the recent European Under-17 Championship, when he fronted for his national side.

Bravo scored two goals in three games at the tournament in Israel, including a stunning first end from 20 yards against Turkey in his side’s opener.

“He’s a player who gives you, in addition to finishing, continuity in the game,” said Spain Under-17 coach Julen Guerrero. OBJECTIVE. “He passes well between the lines, he’s strong, he holds the ball, he plays fast – he’s a player who can give us a lot. We know that and the team knows that.”

Barcelona knew it too, but they failed to convince one of their rarest diamonds to stay. A player like Iker Bravo might not come to Catalonia for a while.

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