Real Madrid and Spain starlet Cesar Gelabert's rise to prominence at the Under-17 World Cup
"He's my idol. He gave me my first ball and my first shirt, the one he wore when he played for Sevilla.”
When it comes to idols, César Gelabert doesn’t have to look too far. When it comes to the biggest influence in his career, look no further than his Father. Juanmi Gelabert was a former defender who retired in 2007 after making 400 appearances in Spain between top two tiers. After sustaining an injury when a ball caught him in the eye, it was time to hang up the boots and watch his son carry on the family footballing lineage.
"It's great. I don't want someone who tells me that I'm doing everything right; I need him to pinpoint the things I do wrong,” says César of his father, who resides in Alicante away from his son, who is a key fixture in the Real Madrid youth teams. Indeed, before the Mali game, there was some clear advice for the player, who although didn’t start the first game in India has become a key player for Spain U-17.
“He told me just to play the way I do every weekend for Real Madrid, to be myself.”
It’s the presence of the 17-year-old that delivered a shot in the arm to this Spain team. After an opening game loss to Brazil when the performance was sluggish and laboured, something seemed to be missing. Captain Abel Ruiz huffed and puffed in attack on his own, while Sergio Gomez and Ferran Torres were double up on in wide areas. Moha meanwhile looked out of sorts playing so advanced up the field.
The introduction of Cesar in the next game proved decisive for Spain, and his mix of fine movement and on the ball ability have changed the complexion of this tournament for Santi Denia’s team. As well as his father, Cesar counts Cristiano Ronaldo as his idol and there have been shades of the Portuguese attitude at times in India.
Cesar is a confident, skilful player and should be encouraged to show that ability - just like his idol was at Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson. While you are a young player, not everything has to be deadly serious and it’s important to enjoy football when playing it. In India, it appears Cesar has taken that on board and away from the shackles that Denia sometimes puts on Spanish players he has been a breath of fresh air, always positive and never seeming in doubt of his next move on the field.
There’s also an unselfish nature about him too, and speaking with FIFA recently he stated his love for not scoring goals - but providing them. He’s found the net twice but it’s providing assists that have excited him the most.
“Why? Because it makes me happy to feel that I'm helping my team. That's always been the case.”
A series of excellent performances since coming into the team was capped with a starring performance against Mali in a hotly contested semi-final. There it was the Gelabert show, as he drove at the Africans' defence to great success, first winning a penalty then providing an assist for Spain’s captain and leading scorer Abel Ruiz. The difference maker had once again stepped up and proved decisive when it mattered most.
It’s not just in India where Gelabert has made waves. He has put in glittering performances back home in Spain and despite being nearly two years younger than the rest of his Real Madrid team at Juvenil A level, he has become a key member for the legendary Guti.
In an incredible year for the Juvenil A team, Gelabert shone and became noted for his dynamic performances providing consistent end product. He only signed for the club in 2015, arriving from Hercules, where he'd also made a name for himself by scoring over 70 goals in four years through their various youth categories.
Los Blancos are always aware of promising talent across Spain, and that brought them to watch Gelabert in Alicante regularly. Noted for his versatility, the Madrid giants were excited by the attacking Gelabert's ability to fit in seemingly anywhere across the front line while also showing competency in midfield and wide roles.
With Real Madrid’s new transfer policy shunning the Galactico purchases of previous years, Gelabert could well be primed to excel at the club. For now, however, it’s India where he’s needed - and yet to be found wanting.