• Lun. Jul 15th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

PSG’s Bradley Barcola – ‘An evolution like his, at a level like this… I’ve never seen it’

The world moves quickly for Bradley Barcola.

As a youngster, his fleetness of foot earned him a few nicknames, the best of which was “la sauterellethe grasshopper. In a sense, that is what he is now for Paris Saint-Germain. He skips from point to point on the left wing, his bursts of speed catching defenders off guard and his slight frame masking the springs that make him play.

It is just as hard to keep up with his recent career trajectory as he prepares for a Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund. It is less than 18 months since Barcola was featuring for Lyon’s reserves with his first-team ambitions apparently stalled.

He was close to a loan move, to a club in Switzerland, to regain some momentum after making his senior debut in 2021. But then everything changed, with the help of a trip to Dubai during the World Cup break — and a team-mate kicking a rubbish bin.

“After we arrived in Lyon, we saw a guy in training who was not really happy, not really doing the physical effort, not scoring goals, still running but not in the best moment,” recalls Franck Passi, assistant to Laurent Blanc who was head coach of Lyon between October 2022 and September 2023. 

“The revelation for me was a training session in Dubai. We played against Arsenal and Liverpool there. We didn’t have much time for attacking sessions but, in the last few I had with Bradley and the other forwards, he was scoring a lot of goals. He showed all his talent.

Barcola replaces Toko Ekambi during Lyon’s Ligue 1 match against Ajaccio in August 2022 (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

“At the end of the week, we were going to send him to the reserves. And the manager of the reserve team was not happy with him, because (Barcola) was not happy, so he was not playing well with the reserves! Then after this training session in Dubai, I said to him: ‘You have fantastic quality — score goals in the reserves. Then when the manager looks at the bench to make a change, you have your opportunity’.

“But this didn’t happen. He was talking about a loan (in January), but the club that wanted him couldn’t afford his salary. Then Karl Toko Ekambi left. He fell out with the fans. We only had three forwards. Bradley did very well with the first team. He took a lot of confidence. After this, he played.”

Toko Ekambi was criticised by Lyon supporters as the team struggled on the pitch. His fallout with the club was defined by an incident caught on camera during a match between Strasbourg and Lyon in January 2023. He was substituted, to whistles, and stormed down the tunnel and kicked a rubbish bin.

He would never play for Lyon again, initially joining Rennes on loan.

Barcola stayed and played. Six months later, he was signed by PSG in a deal worth up to €50million (£42.7m; $53.5m). And now he is laying claim to Kylian Mbappe’s former favoured position on the left flank.

Blink, and you’ll miss him.

“I’m not really amazed because even when he played in the reserves in Lyon, there were a lot of things that I appreciated about him,” said Pierre Sage, now Lyon’s head coach but who previously worked with Barcola in Lyon’s academy. “He showed an intelligence in the way he organised his game in relation to his team-mates.

“At PSG, he has been able to demonstrate his qualities in a very competitive team. I hope for him that he will be rewarded at the end of the season… except on a certain date that we all know.”

That date is May 25 when Lyon face PSG in the French Cup final. That is one of three trophies which PSG are fighting for in the closing stages of this campaign. No French club has ever achieved a treble. The ex-Lyon academy star is among those leading the fight.

Barcola has come into his own at PSG (Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images)

Last week, before helping PSG thrash Lyon 4-1 to leave them within touching distance of another Ligue 1 title, Barcola led PSG’s comeback victory against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final. The 21-year-old’s movement and speed, coupled with a clever first touch to take him across a flailing Ronald Araujo, provoked a tie-changing red card.

Moments later, Barcola set up Ousmane Dembele with a trademark cutback after surging to the byline.



Barcelona 1 PSG 4 (4-6 agg) – Barcelona implode, Xavi and Araujo reds, Mbappe’s triumph

“I prepared for this match really well,” Barcola said afterwards. “I knew I would be important in this game. The coach talked to me a lot. What could be better?”

Barcola is now a match-winner for PSG. But he is a player of Lyon’s creation, another fine talent to emerge from a productive academy that most recently produced first-team playmaker Rayan Cherki, France international Castello Lukeba (now at RB Leipzig) and Chelsea right-back Malo Gusto.

Barcola joined Lyon at under-nine level. He was spotted playing in an indoor tournament for his first team, AS Buers Villeurbanne, in Vaulx-en-Velin — situated to the east of Lyon. He has five siblings including one other footballer, his older brother Malcolm, who played for Lyon as a goalkeeper. Malcolm now plays in Bosnia and, as a family of Togolese descent, is a Togo international.

At home, Barcola’s mother encouraged them to play. “She played football when she was younger,” Barcola told UEFA this week. “It’s rare but she’s the one who gave us passion (for the sport).”

His father took over training later, and they would watch clips of their matches back together in the family living room. The two brothers played together often. “Every weekend, we went to the local stadium,” Malcolm told newspaper Le Progres. “My father made Bradley do specific work in front of goal, and me, as a goalkeeper… he made me work too. We complemented each other well.”

Lyon’s Thiago Mendes, Moussa Dembele, Barcola, Cherki and Alexandre Lacazette (Olivier Chassignole/AFP via Getty Images)

Barcola looked up to Cristiano Ronaldo and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with the pace and finishing of the latter reflective of the youngster’s own skill set.

At Lyon, his family lived close enough to the training ground that he could stay at home instead of moving into digs. He was inspired by the academy generation breaking into the first team at the time: Samuel Umtiti, Corentin Tolisso and Alexandre Lacazette. He would eventually play alongside the latter.

There were question marks about Barcola’s physicality; his slight frame contributing to his nickname but also seen as a potential hindrance. He was no Gusto or Cherki, who were in the year group below Barcola but made their senior breakthroughs earlier. Barcola, in contrast, did not play above his age group during his academy years at Lyon.

Peter Bosz handed him his senior debut in November 2021, in a Europa League tie against Sparta Prague, but it was Toko Ekambi who was first choice. When Blanc arrived last season, Barcola was not in the picture and that initially remained the case. But Toko Ekambi’s departure for Rennes in January presented an opportunity the youngster seized with both hands.

From January, he started all but six of Lyon’s remaining league fixtures, contributing five goals and nine assists. Against Montpellier, he memorably set up three goals for Lacazette as Lyon came back from 4-1 down to win 5-4.

“We had a system where the full-back, like Nicolas Tagliafico, was very good offensively,” says Passi. “So we needed a winger who could drop back and cover the whole flank offensively and defensively, playing with three defenders. The first skill we saw in him is this ability to go up and down for 90 minutes — a very big physical quality.

“After, when we put him on the left, he showed his ability to dribble, and the quality of his speed. But not just speed. You have players who can sprint and cross. But him, he can sprint and then do a second sprint. We call this a ‘second velocity’. He is able to sprint and then, when the defenders reach him, sprint again and leave the defender behind. This is fantastic.

“Today, because he’s full of confidence, he is able to do other things and showing all his skills when cutting inside. We see his ability in front of the near post; he can score goals, can cross, can play a key pass. He can do anything.

“He’s a shy guy in the dressing room. But he’s very intelligent. You have some people who talk a lot. But the guy who is shy… they see everything and, afterwards, if you give advice to that guy, he knows what he has to do.”

According to sources at Lyon — speaking on condition of anonymity, as others consulted for this piece, to protect relationships — Barcola’s agility as well as his ability to read a defender’s body position accurately and profit from it, ensured he was highly rated by staff. Naturally, there was no desire for them to sell Barcola.

But with PSG interested, and Lyon’s new owners battling against the DNCG, the French financial regulator, he was sold for €45million, with €5m in potential add-ons depending on appearances.

Barcola has become a key component of PSG’s forward line (Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

The club, according to another senior source, needed the money and Barcola’s head had been turned. For Barcola, the question was whether the opportunity to join PSG would come again.

“We didn’t want him to leave,” says Passi. “The player showed he wanted to go to Paris because it was the best thing for him. It was difficult to let him go. He was not the same Barcola when he came back for the new season — he was very distracted.”

His exit, with Lyon struggling at the foot of the table and also unable to sign replacements due to financial restrictions, did not go down well with the supporters. His first league appearance for PSG would be against Lyon, at the Groupama Stadium. Fans held up a banner: “Leaving your formative club during the storm, you are s***.”

For PSG, he was a wildcard signing who most expected would complement a new front line of Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Randal Kolo Muani and Goncalo Ramos. But he would prove everyone wrong.

His start was tough. Against Newcastle United in the Champions League, he was harshly criticised for missing chances from the bench in a game that ended 1-1. Luis Enrique kept the faith and started him regularly on the left with Mbappe moving into the middle. He was played into form. The highlight was a draw against Brest in January in which, despite getting a stoppage-time red card, he assumed the mantle of the team’s main attacking threat.

Then, in the Champions League ties with Real Sociedad and Barcelona, Barcola took centre stage.

“Bradley was a gamble from sports management and staff,” said Luis Enrique last month. “He is a young French player who has very high-level technical and physical potential. Climbing this step at PSG, whatever your age, is always difficult. After Newcastle at the Parc, he was very criticised, unfairly, and that did not reflect reality.

“Since then, he has succeeded in matches and that’s not why we have to say only positive things today. He works very well day after day.”

Luis Enrique has built a team of efficient dribblers and while Dembele has excelled on the right, Barcola is competing at a similar level on the other side. He is among the best in Europe. Only Kaoru Mitoma (3.8), Vinicius Junior (3.9) and Jeremy Doku (a whopping 8.2) carry the ball into the penalty area more frequently per 90 minutes, while only 12 players in Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues complete more take-ons per game.

His trademark is to hit the byline and cut the ball back, as reflected by his assist in Barcelona.

Within PSG’s tactical setup, Luis Enrique wants him to receive the ball in advanced positions and take on his full-back one-against-one. Only team-mate Dembele has received more progressive passes per game in Ligue 1. His end product is strong, too, with six assists from 13 full games.

His electric form means there is talk that he might make a late dash for France’s squad for Euro 2024. This is a player, remember, who was first capped at French youth level with the under-20s.

Evidently, the grasshopper has taken a giant leap forward, and in a very short amount of time.  And that makes him an exception.

“It is crazy,” adds Passi. “When we saw that Paris would like to buy him, we thought they would buy him for the bench. But now he’s first choice. An evolution like his, at a level like this… I’ve never seen it.” 



Analysis: Luis Enrique has a team of dribblers but PSG beat Barca with wingers as playmakers

Additional reporting: Thom Harris

(Top photo: ANP via Getty Images)

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