It was a harmless enough scene.
Sitting at a long, brown table alongside a handful of FC Barcelona executives—dressed business-casual—was a slight, tousle-haired teenage boy in a white t-shirt, signing his name wherever he was told.
Then the photographers snapped some pictures and the boy, in a low, quiet voice, made some remarks about joining what he referred to as “the biggest club in the world.”
“This is a great day,” he told the Catalan outfit’s official website, “and I am very happy.”
Then the cameras switched off.
As far as appearances go, Barcelona’s Monday signing of Alen Halilovic from Dinamo Zagreb was as modest and understated as the acquisition of any other youngster destined for the “B” squad and its Mini Estadi.
But if Halilovic remains a secret—and that’s doubtful—he certainly won’t be for much longer. Because what Barcelona have obtained in the 17-year-old is a playmaker of rare, prodigious ability—a ball-distributor boasting exceptional accuracy and blessed with other-worldly vision who will, just a few years from now, take his place in the centre of the park at Camp Nou.
By then, the iconic Xavi Hernandez will be well on his way to retirement while Andres Iniesta will have hit his mid-30s. And alongside Rafinha Alcantara—another Barcelona prospect—Halilovic will be looked upon to continue the Primera Division outfit’s tradition of ball movement, retention and aggressive pressing.
If it seems as though the Blaugrana were looking into the future in completing this deal, it’s because they were.
Like most of the players brought into the club’s La Masia youth setup, Halilovic will be given the necessary time to hone his skills in an environment conducive to development. He won’t be rushed. But he may, by virtue of his play, rush the process.
And that’s bad news for Cesc Fabregas.
Already something of an outsider at Barcelona, the 27-year-old could well be moved along if, passed over in favour of Halilovic and Rafinha, he continues to find himself on the periphery of the first-team squad.
Barcelona’s latest signing may appear harmless enough, but he is anything but.
In the Croatia international the four-time European champions have a player with the power to displace teammates—and to destroy opposing defenses with the flick of his left foot.