[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ootball at the highest level is a pressurised and impatient animal, with Europe’s top clubs given little leeway by their supporters, chairmen or the media in the hunt for silverware.
As such, most managers of the top European sides search out ready-made, international-quality players, with little or no scope for exciting but unproven youngsters to play consistently at the pinnacle of domestic and European competition.
Gerard Deulofeu is a classic example of this tricky scenario; a unique talent that looks set to take the game by storm, but one that is chronically under-played and whose development is stunted as a result.
For someone like the 20-year-old attacker, and there are countless others in Europe’s major leagues, training, heeding coaching advice and working hard can only take you so far – there is no substitute for actually playing alongside and against the best.
After being slowly introduced to the rigours of Premier League action by Toffees boss Roberto Martínez, Deulofeu had starred in the Merseyside derby and scored in his first league start, a 4-0 win against Stoke.
Following writing the piece, the Spaniard continued to prove his ability for the Goodison Park outfit, scoring a memorable equaliser against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium back in December 2013.
A hamstring injury prevented Deulofeu from continuing to build momentum and robbed the Everton fans of a rare talent, in a blow to the club’s hopes of Champions League qualification.
Despite being sidelined for a prolonged period, the Spanish whizz-kid made a total of 25 Premier League appearances for Everton last term, with his time on Merseyside certainly a success.
Following the appointment of Luis Enrique as the Camp Nou outfit’s new head coach in the summer, the Catalan club announced that Deulofeu would not be allowed to spend a second season in England and alongside fellow exciting La Masia graduate Rafinha Alcântara, would be promoted to the first-team squad.
Deulofeu, a Spanish representative at national level from under-16 to under-21 level, was given his senior debut by Vicente del Bosque ahead of the World Cup – everything was seemingly coming together and the winger looked set to be the next home-grown Barcelona revelation.
However, this has simply not materialised for Deulofeu, who has had the most frustrating six months of his young career this season, with his progress firmly halted.
With Barcelona keen to make amends for a trophyless 2013-14 campaign, tempestuous-yet-brilliant Liverpool forward Luis Suárez was signed at great expense. Another starlet from Barcelona B was also promoted in the form of Munir El Haddadi, who found himself immediately in the first-team mix.
The Camp Nou promise of Deulofeu featuring in the Blaugrana first-team squad was revoked due to the wealth of attacking riches at Enrique’s disposal, with the young star instead farmed out to Sevilla on a season-long loan – something the player admitted was a surprise.
Taking the opportunity to go out on loan again to secure more-regular action seemed to make sense, but this has not been guaranteed at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.
Deulofeu has found competition for places intense at Champions League-chasing Sevilla, with the winger only starting six of the side’s 16 La Liga fixtures this term.
Over the last four-to-six weeks opportunities to play have been even more limited for the Spaniard, with a measly 31 minutes of action from the bench in the Andalusian outfit’s last five fixtures.
For a player with self-confessed and sizeable ambitions of starring regularly for boyhood club Barcelona, watching football from the sidelines more often than playing it will be a source of real frustration.
In the cameos that he has been afforded by Sevilla boss Unai Emery, Deulofeu continues to display attacking malice, exceptional technique and superlative vision.
To develop to the next level the attacker needs to consistently deliver an end product, which becomes more difficult by only featuring for ten-odd minutes towards the culmination of games.
It will be a big 2015 for Deulofeu, who will hope to get more time on the pitch as La Liga has returned after the mid-season break.
His promise, raw ability and potential is there for all to see; Deulofeu now needs regular first-team football to progress.
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