Ilaix Moriba has been a regular in the first-team squad at Barcelona following Carles Aleña's move to Getafe, although he's still not made his debut. The club are convinced he will on Thursday at Cornella in the Copa del Rey. It would be the perfect birthday present for the La Masia graduate, who turned 18 on Tuesday.
Ilaix joined Barça from Espanyol in 2010. Marc Serra, who was in charge of Futbol 7 at the time, passed on his details to academy director Albert Puig, convinced that the club had to sign him. His talent was such that there were no doubts. Puig wasn't sure that he had to play in older age groups, though, as he had done at Espanyol. However, the first day he saw him train, he changed his mind. "What's he still doing here?" he asked.
That was the first time that Ilaix, thanks to his unique talent, forced the club to change their policy in terms of managing youngsters. Academy coaches also let him off a few youthful sins that other players have paid for in the past. The club also broke their salary structure within the academy when they renewed his contract at 16. "It was worth making the effort," one of his coaches remembers, "because he's responded as expected." In all senses.
The young midfielder lives with his family in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, travelling to the training ground each day with his father, who doesn't miss a single game his son plays. Used to being the centre of attention when he's played for the junior teams, at the club they assure that Ilaix "has grown in all aspects and is very focused on football."
He is extremely competitive, something which he's showing in the third division with Barça B. "He doesn't hide, he's a f***ing winner," say his teammates with the reserves. He's still technically registered to the U19 teams, but appears much more mature, giving orders and correcting his teammates when necessary, taking on a leadership role already. "He trains like a beast," they add. That's what's ensuring he remains with the first team, with Koeman impressed and Ilaix seizing his opportunities.
His style, as they often point out in La Masia, is a mix of Paul Pogba and Yaya Toure. However, Ilaix's main inspiration is Sergio Busquets and, while he's often asked to attack more for the youth teams, there are elements of the Barça midfielder, too. Busquets has been his big reference when learning the tactical side of the game which is essential to fitting in at Barça. If he keeps going, there are no doubts that he will triumph at Camp Nou.
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