Every season throws up a new batch of rising stars, and the latest list of La Liga’s exciting young talents includes multi-purpose midfielder Pedri at Barcelona, fast-flying Valencia winger Yunus Musah and Villarreal’s tricky wide man Yeremi Pino – a trio of players who looked poised to enjoy sensational careers.
But maybe the biggest breakout star can be found in the chilly north, where Bryan Gil is making a name for himself at Eibar.
The 19 year old winger, who is on loan from Sevilla, delivered his latest exciting performance in last weekend’s narrow loss to Real Madrid, showing some dazzling moments of skill including a brilliant and audacious flick-and-turn to leave his hard-pressed marker Dani Carvajal for dead.
With his improvised and fearless dribbling – not to mention his Beatles-style shaggy hairstyle – Gil looks and plays like a footballer from days gone by. La Liga TV presenter Simon Hanley has even compared him to a young George Best, and although that comparison may be a little generous it’s easy to see certain parallels in terms of his joyfully unrestrained style of play.
Gil’s speed, energy, technical ability and above all his daring, carefree approach make him a really enjoyable player to watch. As his performance against Real Madrid last weekend showed, Gil is not afraid by reputations as his natural exuberance and freedom of spirit allow him to come out with the flicks and tricks even against big-name opponents.
His willingness to take on opponents with the ball at his feet is reflected in the fact that he ranks in the league’s top ten in attempted dribbles, and a perfect illustration of his confident, cheeky style of play is that he has completed more nutmegs (five) than any other player in La Liga.
So there is plenty of style, but more importantly he also brings substance. Gil ranks fourth in La Liga in crosses, showing there is end product to complement his eye-catching play on the ball, and by spending the season with Eibar he has landed at the perfect club to develop.
The Basques employ width and crossing into the box as a fundamental piece of their strategy more than any other team in Spain. After last weekend’s fixtures Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side had delivered the highest number of crosses in La Liga (235, closely followed by Athletic Club with 233), so it is clear that Gil is not only playing, but also playing in a key position for a team where every point is valuable in the quest to preserve top flight status.
Off the ball, as well, Eibar is a great place for Gil to develop. Mendilibar insists upon a high defensive line and a relentless work rate from his team’s forwards to close down the opposition and attempt to regain possession or force errors. Eibar have made far more pressures in the final third than any other team (587, followed by Real Sociedad with 528), and Mendilibar’s no-nonsense management style will make it crystal clear to his talented young winger that fancy footwork alone will not suffice – he also has to be prepared to put in the hard yards without the ball.
And Gil is not shying away from that responsibility: with 9.14 pressures per 90 minutes in the final third, he ranks fifth in the league in that category (unsurprisingly, his teammate Kike tops the list with 10.2), so his capacity for work rate cannot be questioned.
The future beneficiaries of Gil’s development year in Eibar will be his parent club, Sevilla. The left wing has been something of a problem position for coach Julen Lopetegui this season, with Munir El Haddadi, Oliver Torres and Lucas Ocampos – who is more effective on the other flank – sharing playing time in a spot that nobody has made their own.
Lopetegui has also been fairly accused that his team, although very well organised, is too often predictable and lacking a spark of magic in terms of creativity. Next season, Gil should be back at the Sanchez Pizjuan to give Sevilla exactly what they have been missing, and potentially turn them into a team capable making a serious challenge for top honours.
In the more immediate future, Gil’s next game is another opportunity to grow his reputation: a trip to Barcelona on Tuesday night, when his tussle with a fellow rising star, Barca’s Sergino Dest, will be a great battle to savour as arguably this season’s most impressive young right-back goes into a direct duel with the most exciting emerging left winger.
For now, Gil will have to content himself with heading to the Camp Nou with the hope of steering his team away from the relegation zone. Before too long, though, it seems pretty certain he will be back on the same stage to play a central role in the pursuit of silverware.