Gerard Deulofeu’s career to date has been a strange one.
As a eager teenager at Barcelona, he was extremely highly regarded by the Catalan club and their followers, who gushed in admiring tones about a youngster who was destined to be “The Next Big Thing”.
That optimistic viewpoint was further strengthened by a magnificent 2012/13 season with the club’s B team, when Deulofeu tallied 18 league goals to cement his status as Spain’s brightest young talent.
Back then he was still only 18-years-old but still managing to consistently shine against seasoned professionals in Spain’s second division, often standing out as by far the best player on the pitch and sometimes making the game look effortlessly easy.
In the summer of 2013 he was loaned to Everton, a move which was met with approval by Barca fans who expected their rising star to benefit from a brief toughening-up process in England before returning to become a first team regular at Camp Nou.
But it never happened. Despite flashes of promise – notably a late Premier League equaliser to earn a point at Arsenal – Deulofeu struggled to consistently impress for the Toffees, and when he came back to Spain at the end of the season it was not to Barcelona, but another loan spell, this time at Sevilla.
There, his development slowed even further. Deulofeu managed just ten league starts and one goal, suffering the ignominy of being named in Marca’s worst XI of the season, with his lazy and arrogant displays telling the tale of a young man who had badly lost his way.
Back to Everton, this time on a cut-price permanent deal, the winger continued to flounder, and after finishing last season with yet another bland loan spell, this time at AC Milan, Spanish football’s Chosen One was rapidly becoming the Forgotten One.
Unexpectedly, however, now he has been handed another chance – and he could not have asked for a better one.
Partly in response to fan frustration at their inability to develop homegrown talent, Barcelona decided in the summer to bring local boy Deulofeu back to Camp Nou where, four years after it was supposed to happen, he has been installed as a fully-fledged member of the first team squad.
And now, following the shock departure of Neymar, he has every chance of being a member of the starting eleven for Sunday’s Super Cup clash with Real Madrid.
With no other natural wingers in the Barca squad, Deulofeu has temporarily inherited Neymar’s position almost by accident, and there were very positive signs as he excelled in last week’s friendly against Chapecoense, registering one goal and two assists in the opening 30 minutes.