Gianluca Gaudino made his Bundesliga debut for Bayern Munich on Friday night in the German-double winners' 2-1 win against Wolfsburg. At 17 years, nine months and 11 days, he became the fourth-youngest player to appear for the Munich giants in the German top flight. And the debutant earned high praise for his performance.
Indeed, the Twittersphere was abuzz with praise for the young and supremely talented Gaudino, whose slick passing caught the eye of not only fans, but teammate Arjen Robben. Per the official Bundesliga website (h/t Goal.com's Enis Koylu), the Dutchman said he was "very proud" of Gaudino.
Bayern appear to have a star in the making in Gaudino. But the question remains: Is he ready for the big stage?
By most impressions of Friday's match, the answer might be that Gaudino indeed is ready to make his mark at a high level. He was arguably the club's most creative player prior to Thomas Muller's opener, and his precise cross assisted what would have been the opening goal of the Bundesliga season if Robert Lewandowski's acrobatic volley hadn't been stopped by the brilliant Max Grun.
According to the official Bundesliga live ticker, Gaudino covered more ground (12.93 km) than any other player and completed 59 of his 61 attempted passes (96.61 percent).
In terms of completed passes, he ranked fourth among all players; his record of two misplaced passes was lower than all Bayern players who played the full 90 minutes.
As for touches of the ball, Gaudino was sixth among Bayern players, with 65, and level with Wolfsburg's second-most active player, Josuha Guilavogui. For perspective, Dante led all players with 120 ball contacts, and David Alaba (Gaudino's partner in central midfield) had 92.
By the numbers in possession, Gaudino's performance suggests an extremely high level of maturity even at his still very young age. And indeed, not only does he have exceptional technique, his tactical nous is also very refined. Gaudino seems to know exactly where to play the ball and doesn't wait for a pass to come his way; his movement without the ball suggests a player years his senior.
Based on the quality he's shown since Bayern training began in July, it may come as a surprise to many that Gaudino has never played a part in any German youth national team. That apparent anomaly can be attributed to the Relative Age Effect. Having a November birthday leaves him at a distinct disadvantage relative to those born in, for example, January and February. If he continues to develop, though, the age bias will disappear as he progresses to senior level for country as he has for club.
At the same time, Gaudino's numbers were not all rosy on Friday. And his attributes aren't all where they need to be. The player's main problem is his physical immaturity, something that will naturally diminish with time but is a barrier that nonetheless ought not to be overlooked.
Gaudino's height and weight are not even listed on the Bundesliga or Bayern official websites, but it's abundantly clear that the 17-year-old is still in his adolescence, some distance from manhood. His timidity cost Bayern in the DFL-Superpokal, particularly in the lead-up to the opening goal, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan skipped past him with consummate ease.
Gaudino was more combative in Friday's match, at least in terms of shielding the ball. But from a central midfield position that requires players to be willing to challenge for the ball, he only attempted 11 tackles over the course of the 90 minutes. By contrast, Alaba engaged in 20 duels.
In terms of those won, Gaudino's number is even more disappointing. Although his team won 54.8 percent of their challenges overall, the youngster won just four (36 percent). By comparison, Alaba won 12, or 60 percent of his duels.
Being barely post-pubescent, Gaudino's musculature has yet to develop to match his frame, a danger for the fitness, especially of his knees. The youngster doesn't yet have the quickness to the ball that top holding midfielders possess. In fact, per the Bundesliga live ticker, he was only clocked in "sprint" mode on 11 occasions. Only Holger Badstuber and Bayern's substitutes had lower figures.
This is not to say Gaudino is unsuitable to play at Bayern this season. He's shown he has some real quality and will only get much better with maturity. But he has some very distinct weaknesses that can be and already have been exploited.
Looking at those Bayern players who debuted at an even younger age than Gaudino, two (Alaba and Toni Kroos) did so in recent years. Both played a few games before being demoted to the bench and sent on loan. Both are now world-class players.
It would be hugely surprising if Gaudino were to remain a trusted member of the first team without being demoted and/or farmed out to another club to earn some more experience.
Whatever the short-term holds for Gaudino, at this rate, he'll one day be a star. His performance in nearly two months as a professional is convincing evidence that if he stays healthy and continues to progress, he has every chance of following in the footsteps of Alaba and Kroos.
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