After all the hype, we’re about to find out if Xavi Simons is the real deal

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In November 2012, Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola fielded a full eleven of La Masia academy graduates who took a 4-0 victory over Levante.

It was the first time in the club’s history that they faced a full squad full of local talent, but it was not unusual for those times.

Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Pedro have all won multiple Champions Leagues and have been the backbone of La Blaugrana’s greatest team.

Some talented players have broken through and followed in their footsteps, but none have reached the heights of those who came before them.

Like Manchester United’s Class 92, it is becoming increasingly clear in hindsight that such a generation of players emerging at the same time was a miracle. An abnormal event unlikely to be replicated elsewhere for decades and certainly not at the same club once again.

Still, at the time, that didn’t stop a clamor to see who would be Catalonia’s next big event. Amateur scouts and bloggers have reserved dozens of youngsters for future success, but one name has stood out above all others like the anointed one: Xavi Simons.

Son of former Eredivisie striker Regillio Simons, born in Amsterdam and named after Xavi Hernandez, the story was almost strange. As if he had been created in a laboratory to be the perfect fit for Barcelona. Much like Messi, he was clearly a special talent even before he reached his teens.

While there has always been a buzz about Messi in football circles – just listen to how one of his former youth coaches describes him – the Argentine was able to come of age and develop his skills away from the spotlight, when YouTube remained in its infancy and social media was little more than MSN Messenger and MySpace.

At the time, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll on Bebo were what came closest to a young footballer who was “building his brand.” Who knew they would turn out to be such luminaries?

When Simons was a teenager, the world was another place. La Masia’s obsession with the future of La Masia has seen his every move in the youth ranks cut, compiled and shared online.

He was only 11 years old when the Catalan sports daily El Mundo Deportivo posted a profile, and by the age of 14, he had amassed a million Instagram followers. Soon he was portrayed by the infamous superagent Mino Raiola.

The football world is ruthless at the best of times. There are serious and uncomfortable questions to ask about the impact of such pressure on adolescent mental health and how the industry treats those who fail.

All of this can only be magnified for an individual who was a social media superstar before hitting a ball at a higher level. It’s hard not to feel uncomfortable about how Simons’ journey has unfolded in the public eye.

After all, the last player to make a name for himself at such a young age was Freddy Adu, who never reached the heights he should have been.

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READ: The 10 stages of Freddy Adu’s career: from prodigy to vagabond

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Nevertheless, the young midfielder seems to have evolved at a steady pace since signing his first professional contract – with PSG, rather than in his childhood club – in the summer of 2019.

Simons made a few appearances in the UEFA Youth League a few months after arriving in Paris, and weeks before his 18th birthday, Mauricio Pochettino gave him his debut with a 12-minute appearance in a 1-0 Cup. Victory of France over Caen.

Five minutes of Ligue 1 football followed, but he had to be patient for his place on the sidelines of the first team.

“He won’t be Iniesta or Xavi, but he has quality and an imbalance to be able to develop a career in the Premier League,” said Pochettino, after his debut, anxious not to overload the kid with the impossible to emulate. “He’s still very young, but he has great potential.

While his life and public profile have been anything but ordinary, Simons’ gradual integration into first-team football has been sane, patient, and the same as any other player in the academy considered good enough to level up. superior.

Barcelona’s Pedri is the same age and made over 50 appearances last season before playing almost every minute for Spain at Euro 2020. Iniesta only made his international debut at the age of 22 . The lesson is this: When they’re ready, they’re ready.

For Simons, that moment might just be now – after what has long been felt.

With the assortment of PSG stars enjoying an extended break after Copa America and Euro 2020, the preseason has given the 18-year-old a platform to show Pochettino what he has to offer.

The Netherlands international has scored two out of two in pre-season friendlies ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. He clinched a 4-0 victory over Le Mans before showing off his skill with a quick pass, playing a one-two before timing his run and confidently returning home in a 2-2 draw with the FC Chambly Oise.

Reports suggest it is only a matter of time until he extends his current contract. There is obviously confidence and belief in his abilities in the French capital.

Considering the quality and depth of the Parisians’ squad, Simons is unlikely to play a pivotal role next season. Her body is still childish, further physical growth seems necessary before the next step.

But for all the circus, headlines and hashtags around it seems to be on the right track. The 2021-22 campaign may not be its breakthrough year, but it will be an important year – expect more than a few brief cameos, at the very least.

People have been saying ‘watch this space’ about Xavi Simons for almost half of his life. This is still the case for now, but – ultimately – it won’t be for long.

By Nestor Watach


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