“He had this type of confidence in himself of a player that is sure he won’t lost the ball. He knew things would go well when he got the ball. It was something all of us who played with him noticed. He added a lot of calm to the middle of the pitch.” That’s how Arsenal player Jon Toral, currently on loan at Birmingham, remembers playing with Sergi Samper.
Since Samper arrived at FC Barcelona as a six-year-old, the club have worked with him to help him develop. Taking care of each detail as he progressed through the club’s academy, he’s one of the best examples of the Catalan side’s methodology, a touch-based style backed up by possession.
“HE THINKS SO QUICKLY”
Watching him play as a kid it was impossible not to compare him with Guardiola, Celades, Xavi and Busquets. Five years ago Sergi Barjuan said: “I took Toral and Samper to a Juvenil tournament in Brazil. I was impressed by Samper. He has a very slim physique, but he thinks so quickly. Despite stepping up from Cadete to Juvenil, he was taking responsibilities on really quickly. I think in these games, you realised what he needed was to grow physically and to play with more aggression.” That was in 2011 and if you had the chance to speak with anyone involved with La Masia they would have said they same thing: "Samper’s the kid to follow." And the most common phrase was always repeated. “He has everything to be a success at Barça.”
THE PERFECT PROJECT
Doubts about his position had been covered up Oscar Garcia - playing him as a central midfielder - and there weren’t even stories about mischief off the field, as is common at those ages. He was the perfect project for the club and the ‘hype’ seemed justified. No-one was surprised as he rushed through the youth teams, eventually settling in the Barça B side managed by Eusebio.
During his time with Barça B he has had ups and downs - he played less in the final stage of last season with Vinyals - but for a few years now the debate has been about his impact on the first team and the possibility of him settling in the squad.
END OF B TEAM TIME
Samper’s representatives are clear on one thing: after three seasons with Barça B, this will be his last. The start of the current season was particularly difficult because of the toughness of having to drop down to Segunda B and because Luis Enrique relied more on Gerard Gumbau in the first team.
There are people who think Gumbau’s more defensive profile was what Luis Enrique liked. But there are other coaches at the club who suggest it was a circumstantial decision. “It could have been a case of form on a momentary level, I imagine Luis Enrique saw Gumbau as physically better [at that point].” Time seems to give that theory reason, because Samper has recovered his validity with the first team, albeit in dribs and drabs. At the club they think Barça B’s relegation did “damage” to the player, as they now play in a division which is a little raw for his style of football.
A STEP FORWARD
As the weeks have passed, a new Barça B has grown after adding more experience in the January transfer window. Samper now exhibits better positional play, clinging to the central defenders and improving his awareness.
“He’s taken a step forward, although defensive work will never be his biggest virtue,” point out some of the coaches at Barça. He’s even played as an interior - the position played by Rakitic and Iniesta in the first team - on some occasions. Another thing which could be key in making the first team.
“BARÇA ARE THE FIRST OPTION”
In December, Samper was unequivocal after the game against Villanovense in the Copa del Rey: “I can’t spend many more years with Barça B, I try to work to be in the first team, but if I don’t have any chances I will have to leave. But my first option is Barça.”
A few months have passed and Samper has communicated to his representatives that he wants find out what his chances are of being in the first team. As of today, he’s the only Barça B player with a real chance of moving up in the summer, although the club are debating the possibility of a loan move.
AND THE PREMIER LEAGUE?
Barça have communicated to the player their intention to extend his contract, which ends in 2017. Representatives of Media Base Sport, whose most visible employee is Pere Guardiola, have had contact with Barcelona and the signs are good. The club want him to stay and Samper is happy to extend his deal.
But they will have to continue negotiating, as the player has various offers on the table from English clubs. Samper understands his time with Barça B is coming to an end, but the presence of players like Busqeuts, Sergi Roberto and Mascherano makes it difficult for him to become a regular in the first team. Barça want to be able have him at the club, although a loan move is by no means disagreed.
THE LOAN DEBATE
Samper is a special player. People at the club are unanimous about that. His profile is so Barça that there are doubts about his ability to adapt to other teams, which is why a loan move “depends on where he goes.” Arsenal have been the club who have made the most effort to sign him so far, but his representatives insist he is “very cule”. “Luis Enrique told me not to give up,” Samper has said. Hopefully, he can climb the final step.