Player to watch: Munir El Haddadi, Valencia’s Barcelona-bred potential star

Valencia, one off the bottom of the Primera Liga with no points yet, are in need of a saviour as they travel to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. Ian Hawkey writes it could be Munir El Haddadi.
Munir El Haddadi scored four goals in 33 first-team appearances with Barcelona before being loaned to Valencia. Toni Albir / EPA
Munir El Haddadi scored four goals in 33 first-team appearances with Barcelona before being loaned to Valencia. Toni Albir / EPA

Valencia, one off the bottom of the Spanish Primera Liga with no points from their first three fixtures, are in need of a saviour as they travel to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. Step forward Munir El Haddadi, 21, a striker with great expectations

La Masia Product

Munir has joined Valencia initially on loan, in a late-transfer window move that saw the Spain international Paco Alcacer go the other way, to Barcelona where Munir had been in the senior squad for two seasons. Barca have agreed that Valencia can buy Munir outright for €12m in June, though they will be keeping proprietorial tabs on his progress. He is one of theirs, after all, having come up through the famed Barca academy, La Masia.

Between Morocco and Madrid

Munir was born in the Madrid area, the son of a Moroccan father, who had crossed the Mediterranean to seek work in Spain, and a Spanish mother. He grew up in the suburbs of the capital and attracted the attention of Atletico Madrid. But Barcelona’s scouts also spotted him and made a determined effort to acquire him, apparently to the irritation of Real Madrid, who felt they missed a potential star under their noses.

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Prodigious rise

At youth level, Munir impressed with his goalscoring, his athleticism and his speed. He finished top scorer, and joint-leading provider of assists, in the Uefa Youth League, won by Barcelona in 2013/14. That ensured his promotion to the first-team squad that summer, a squad which had just brought together perhaps the most envied forward line in history, with Luis Suarez joining Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Teenage Blitz

A week before his 19th birthday, Munir played his first match for Barcelona’s first XI. He scored after 66 minutes, the second goal in a 3-0 win over Elche. Three days after that birthday, he debuted for Spain’s under-21s. Then, aged 19 and one week he came on as a substitute as the Spain senior side began their defence of the European championship with a 5-1 win over Macedonia.

Glass Ceiling

That, though, was his last outing for the senior national team, and suspicion remains that, though he had impressed with Barcelona, with who he has won two Primera titles and been part of an Uefa Champions League winning campaign, he was accelerated to a full, competitive Spanish cap in order to make him ineligible for Morocco, who had also sought his commitment internationally. Though he reached 50 matches for Barcelona – scoring 10 goals – he has had to live in the shadows of the fabled trio of South American strikers at Camp Nou.

Valencia should give him more opportunities, and, at 21, he has time on his side.

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Published: September 16, 2016 04:00 AM

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