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Ilaix Moriba: A martyr of the Barcelona crisis

The contract situation of Ilaix Moriba is becoming louder than his ability on the pitch. This should not be the case for one so gifted and rare.

Such is the access and unlimited content created in football, that a contract renewal can be as exciting, and marketed as a new signing.

Lent over a desk, club shirt worn, signing a sheet to commemorate continued commitment to the team. These public displays are not reserved for those at the top of the food chain, neither. A young sensation’s breakthrough into senior football is typically welcomed with a contract extension of this nature, plus the token shirt number change.

Interest in such matters makes the silence of a non-negotiation all the more deafening. Speculation can circle when a player is yet to sign. The reasons behind it are debated, and so to are the supposed interests of other clubs.

Few situations of this nature have been as publicised as that of Ilaix Moriba. The eighteen year old has only eighteen senior appearances to his name. Yet having refused to sign a new deal with Barcelona, the noise around him has turned into a war of personality, rather than a debate of ability.

His profile is indeed a rare one. A fantastic ball carrier, eighteen year old Ilaix Moriba already looks like he could become the centrepiece of many top European midfields. Be it Barcelona, or otherwise.

The standoff

Without having a vested interest in the outcome of this contract standoff, the presiding takeaway is of wanting to see such a talent just play.

Fans of the club will no doubt be frustrated at the prospect of Moriba leaving. For all of Barcelona’s miserable mismanagement, and accumulation of numerous white elephant assets, they possess a midfield core of extreme ability. Frenkie de Jong and Pedri could rightly claim to be in Europe’s ten best central midfielders.

It is highly unlikely that a midfield including both, and Ilaix Moriba, could ever be functional. However to lose one so gifted, is still a situation one would like to avoid.

Without knowing the specifics of these contract negotiations, one can imagine that being sat behind two midfielders of such class will peeve Moriba. He and Pedri are less than a year apart in age. de Jong is just twenty four. Without being bought away from Barca, these two will remain the midfield’s lynchpins for potentially another decade to come.

As Moriba develops, such a blockade will be problematic. The other issue is supposedly a financial one. Coach Ronald Koeman has claimed to have reasoned with Moriba, and stated that “money can’t be most important thing at that age.”

The power games have clearly begun. The club claim Moriba’s stance is on the grounds of monetary demands. The player remains quiet, yet unyielding in his position. Whilst the club would be losing a unique and gifted individual, Ilaix Moriba could find himself under a coach and club to supercharge his progression. Away from the burning buildings of Barcelona.

The star they need, not deserve

Aside from the contract situation, there is a matter of what Ilaix Moriba is to Barcelona as a player. He is no doubt a player of great potential but also paradoxically a complete juxtaposition of what a Barcelona midfielder typically is.

There are a number of different caveats to assessing Moriba’s output and metrics. One being that he is so young, and so fresh to senior football, that there isn’t any degree of depth of history to measure him against. Additionally, his minutes as a senior player have also been limited, with only 540 coming in La Liga last season.

This said, whilst acknowledging the skews of a small data sample, Ilaix Moriba is a fascinating profile of midfielder.

As expected of a Barcelona graduate, his short passing is tight and precise. Moriba is already completing on average over sixty passes per ninety, despite only starting four league games in 20/21. He demands the ball even under pressure, and ranks in the 99th percentile amongst midfielders for passes made under pressure.

As a dribbler, there are few midfield players that can compete with Ilaix Moriba. Not just in quantity, but in the quality and purpose of his carrying. 0.32 Shot Creating Actions/90, and 0.16 Goal Creating Actions/90, are produced from Moriba’s dribbling alone. Using his long legs, and excellent balance to stride beyond tackles, Moriba bounds forward with a direct intensity that splits defences apart.

Moriba has also shown himself to be a proactive and willing defender. Whilst not matching it with impressive defensive numbers, 26.97 pressures/90 is almost unprecedented amongst top-five league midfielders. Of course, coming in a very limited sample size.

Breaking the mould

Focussing on the attributes of Ilaix Moriba can start to make sense of why he wishes to leave. It can even start to explain why, if reports are to be believed, his wage demands have rocketed so dramatically.

Moriba is not a typical Barcelona midfielder in the same way that de Jong and Pedri are. Or even in the way that Arthur was before him, or Riqui Puig promises to be. The template for that part of the pitch will forever be the Busquets-Iniesta-Xavi tri-fector. Pedri’s likeness to Iniesta is startling. Puig will forever be likened to Xavi, if anything just for his stature and composure in possession. de Jong freakishly embodies a bit of all three.

Moriba is a different entity. One whose game is not merely limited to the technical facets of the game, but one who can also dominate physically. As he develops and grows, his exceptional carrying and tight control in possession will turn him into a generational midfielder.

The question remains whether that could ever be realised at Barcelona. Where those in front of him are also so gifted, and breaking from the midfield norms set out in the late 2000s, can often be scoffed and sneered at. At best, it can be mistrusted.

These factors make it highly sensible for Moriba to seek a move away. If he is to fulfil the talent potential he has, it is doubtful whether this could happen in a midfield with both Pedri and de Jong.

With Moriba now supposedly training with the B team, the situation is souring at a rapid rate.

The solution: RB Leipzig?

Unless a dramatic compromise is met, it is unlikely the relationship between Ilaix Moriba and the club will ever mend to the extent that he continues his career there. So, where else would he fit in?

Quite simply, there are a plethora of clubs that could offer Moriba a sensible, yet exciting, development opportunity. Similarly, that he could offer a brand of player they are desperate for.

There is also a sensibility attached to signing Ilaix Moriba. His age alone makes him a worthwhile investment. However, with only a year left on his contract, he could be available for a significantly reduced fee.

RB Leipzig are the obvious candidate, and have reportedly approached the Moriba camp stating so. The sale of Marcel Sabitzer could make this feasible, and the club’s advocacy of recruiting players with unique skillsets, suits Moriba. Take Christopher Nkunku and Dominik Szoboszlai. Exceptional creative talents, yes. But players that one could foresee being misused, or positioned poorly, by clubs and managers lacking the liberal thinking of RB Leipzig. Both are thriving, with Nkunku being one of the Bundesliga’s best creators in recent years.

With Jesse Marsch still warming up the dugout seat, this current Leipzig side have not set out a definitive formation nor style yet. However, having been groomed through the Ralf Ragnick school of Red Bull coaching, March’s systems ca be traced through his predecessors. Heavy emphasis on direct, vertical play, and offering an aggressive transitional style that dynamic midfielders and attackers can thrive in. There could arguably be no greater home for Moriba to advance in.

One could imagine Moriba filling the Sabitzer void. He has yet to prove any degree of versatility, with each of his appearances at senior level coming from central midfield. One only has to watch Ilaix Moriba, and observe his statitsical strengths, to see that he could fill a number of roles in a fluid RB Leipzig setup. As Sabitzer, Nkunku, Amadou Haidara, Tyler Adams and Konrad Laimer can testify.

The fork in the road

The noise surrounding this situation will of course die down accordingly. A move away for Ilaix Moriba will be heralded as an exciting development in the transfer market. For the rest of Europe to now see what he is capable of outside of the Barcelona creche.

RB Leipzig especially will be a tantalising suitor. Should the deal materialise (at the time of writing, it is yet to), they will be the beneficiaries of a player that could define the style and ability of the next generation of midifelders. Much in the way Paul Pogba did close to a decade ago.

For Ilaix Moriba, he can be coached and supported by those interested in nothing but extrapolating every ounce out of him. Away from the politics and PR games of a club in disarray. The communications of Barcelona on the situation do little to imply any degree of support for the teenager.

For fans of the game, to see Ilaix Moriba playing regularly and flourishing, is only a good thing. He is a joyous player to watch, and to imagine where his career will take him is a fascinating train of thought.

Barcelona lose in this situation. Ilaix Moriba on the other hand, could find it defining his career for the better.

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