Who Is Robertinho? Meet the Rising Spanish Star at La Masia

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2017

This pictured shows the new building named 'La Masia' training centre Oriol Tort where young players of the Barcelona football club live and train, near the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona  on August 5, 2011 .  AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGO (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
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When times have been bad for Barcelona in recent years, or even marginally not-as-good-as-usual, there has been plenty to fall back on to promote optimism for the future, both short- and mid-term.

Lionel Messi, major trophies, big-name signings, Lionel Messi, youth graduates from La Masia and Lionel Messi have perhaps made up the most frequent ports of call when fans seem down about the team's on-pitch fortunes, but at least a couple of those haven't been as much in evidence this summer.

A solitary Copa del Rey title last season, the departure and (so far) non-replacement of Neymar and a dearth of talented players breaking through from the youth academies in the past couple of seasons have left the Camp Nou faithful a little downhearted at present—but there could be a turnaround in sight.

The youth teams at La Masia continue to evolve as they always do, promoting talent up an age group when possible, and the B team are back in the Segunda division this season. Perhaps, then, the recent talent drain can be reversed—and there's one name in particular who has begun to make fans sit up and take notice: Robertinho, otherwise known as Robert Navarro.

Alevin to Cadete

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Still only 15, Robert Navarro joined Barcelona from Osasuna and will this season move up from the Cadete B to A team, a year above his age group and one of several named by Sport's Albert Roge as being "pushed through the system early."

He is a player who, like others in the setup at La Masia, came through the FCBEscola "nursery" system (a pre-academy-age training ground associated with the club); the official FCB website noted him last season among the eldest of 18 graduates. The first player to make the grade at first-team level for Barcelona after starting out in the Escola was Sergi Samper—something for Navarro to aspire to.

His progression isn't unexpected; his prodigious skills have been noted by local and national press for some time now. Back in 2015, he was named by AS as one of the "future Messis" of Barca's youth sides, though more in terms of potential success than style.

A year previous, at just 12 years of age, Oriol Domenech of Mundo Deportivo recorded his early years and how he had quickly become such a prospect at La Masia.

Navarro, or Robertinho, as Roge and Josep Capdevila of Sport reported he's referred to by his team-mates, has football in his blood: his father holds the appearance record for l'Hospitalet.

          

Braziliant to watch

The -inho suffix to his name isn't a coincidence; his style of play is suggested to be distinctly Brazilian. Skilful, quick feet and a willingness to try anything beyond the ordinary, Robertinho hasn't simply made himself a headline-maker through consistency and importance to the team but also by creating his own standout moments.

An impressive moment of trickery to beat his man as recently as February earned him another headline in Sport, this time the "play of the weekend."

It's not hard to see why such accolades come his way, with one-on-one ability and a mind as fast as his feet to create solutions on the pitch.

At his age, football should be more about enjoyment and expression than learning, and that has clearly been the case for Robertinho...though perhaps not always for the defenders he comes up against.

Naturally there is more to learn: His game must evolve, and the hardest steps—Cadete to B team, B team to senior football—are yet ahead of him, but appreciating a young talent for what he brings to a team is also part of the experience.

         

Future

The two big fears with youth stars, even ones who appear generational talents, are that they either peak early and are unable to handle older, bigger opponents or that they cannot deal with the professionalism and rigid lifestyle needed to succeed at the top.

At Barcelona, over the past couple of years at least, a third fear has grown: La Masia graduates are making the breakthrough less and less, whether because they aren't as good or because a change in club policy means they are not receiving the opportunities they need to shine.

If Robertinho is to buck the trend, he needs not just youth coaches who believe in him and can improve him but also for a pathway to the top to still be in place. Clearly he sees one right now in Carles Alena, but who else?

Jordi Mboula left this summer. Seungwoo Lee has been linked with Borussia Dortmund, per Bild (h/t Elliott Bretland of the Daily Mail). Adama Traore, Seung-Ho Paik, Gerard Gumbau, Alejandro Grimaldo, Sergi Gomez, Kiko Femenia and Sandro Ramirez have all left over the last few years after being talked up or being close to breaking through in the past.

Robertinho will be one of the next who fans hope to see a lot more of, like Alena, Sergi Roberto or Rafinha, and they will know exactly what to expect, if and when his breakthrough comes, having already become well-acquainted with him thanks to his youth-team exploits over the past few years.

And if a chance never arrives, the same exploits will no doubt mean he has no shortage of clubs ready to offer him a greater chance of making it elsewhere.

                  

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