Cristian Tello: Will He Become a Star at Barcelona?
Cristian Tello has already made a splash at the Camp Nou with his pace and goalscoring ability.
The La Masia product scored in just his second league appearance for the senior squad and netted a brace in his Champions League debut against Bayer Leverkusen after coming on as a second-half substitute.
This year, Tello has continued to find time in the first team, with 16 appearances to date and as many goals as Alexis Sanchez and Pedro combined (though that surely says more about their form than his).
With news breaking Monday that Tello has signed on with Barcelona through 2016, the inevitable question is: Will he become a regular in the squad, or even the starting 11? Or will he, like Gio dos Santos and Bojan before him, live out his Barca days as a second-tier player and eventually seek his first-team football elsewhere?
Let's look at the reasons he might—or might not—eventually become a star player for the Blaugrana.
Speed and Quickness
There's no doubt about it: Tello is a quick lad.
In a typical play, Tello will receive the ball wide on the left or the right, step over the ball with one foot and drive straight toward the touch line, looking to get around his defender and make an opportunity for a low pass or shot across the face of goal.
He often makes little attempt to disguise this move—often enough leaving out the bit of skill in the stepover entirely—but often enough, he doesn't have to. His pace is such that he can merely play the ball beyond his defender and still beat him to it—that is, as long as he doesn't push the ball into touch. (More on that later.)
Above, you see a successful attempt at this bit of skill from Tello. Unfortunately, he can sometimes force the issue, though he has been more patient with his pace this season than last.
Tello's pace also makes him a dangerous target for passes from the usual suspects—Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Messi.
When defenses congest the middle of the park to make life difficult for those passing geniuses, Tello is often the one to benefit by biding his time on the flank and waiting for the inevitable pass from the middle.
He's proven himself a clinical finisher whether he's been played through on goal or cutting back across the goal onto his right foot, as he proved with fine finishes against Spartak Moscow and above against Mallorca.
With his unassuming demeanor comes a quiet confidence in front of goal that has so far managed to transfer to the highest level and should serve him well into the future.
Tello gives the Barcelona attack another dimension.
None of the other Barca attackers is quite the type to take on a first defender and beat him to the goal line. Barcelona do put in the odd low cross now and again, but most often, it comes about from a more deliberate build-up, culminating in an overlapping run from one of the full-backs who receive the ball in stride and put it across first time.
With Tello on the ball, similar crosses can come more quickly, with an added element of surprise and unpredictability.
As mentioned previously, Tello's extra pace can make him a threat coming in from the wide areas when play gets congested in the middle.
Many teams will try to frustrate the likes of Messi and Xavi by playing a very compact defense. When Barcelona have trouble breaking these teams down, Tello may be a great alternative option.
These attributes don't come without trade-offs, however...
Passing and Intelligence
Tello is, to put it simply, not the most intelligent footballer around.
His passing, though greatly improved already over last season, often leaves something to be desired.
Though it's a bit unfair of me to showcase one of his poor moments from the match at Mallorca, what you see above is more typical of Tello than of most Barca attackers: he sells Busquets short with a lazy and questionable pass, and Barca loses possession as a result.
Now, not every player can have the wherewithal of a Xavi or an Iniesta; even Messi gives the ball away a fair amount of the time in pursuit of brilliance. And Tello's vision and passing selections will continue to improve with experience.
But Tello's decision-making and lack of passing acumen will continue to hold him back as he tries to move through the Barca ranks.
His biggest obstacle, though, is surely his...
Touch and Technique
...Touch. Tello's touch falls short not only when compared to Barcelona's most recognizable players; it is decidedly subpar.
Far too often, you see Tello receive the ball in a dangerous position like he does in the above video (at the end of the passing sequence), only to squander the chance and lose possession completely.
In this instance, he squanders it in some fashion, knocking the ball a good 10 yards in front of him in the process.
Tello may not have to be a brilliant passer to make it as one of Barcelona's first-team striking options, but he'll certainly have to settle the ball better than that!
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
While many players can sharpen their passing, expand their vision and even improve their finishing with experience, a player's basic technique is usually something that he acquires early in his playing days and keeps with him throughout his career.
Unfortunately for Tello, his technique isn't quite up to the level of other players who will be perpetually breaking through the Barca ranks.
Though he possesses other noteworthy characteristics and will certainly be a fine footballer wherever he makes his career, I don't see him nailing down a regular starting spot with a team that relies so heavily on quick passing and clever combinations the way Barca do.
But I'd be more than happy to be proved wrong if Tello can improve his game and produce results. It's not easy to make it at the Camp Nou. I wish him the best of luck.