The man who stopped Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo: Scout report on Pablo Maffeo
A look at the man who stopped Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo this season, Girona's bright young star Pablo Maffeo
There is certainly no shortage of quality full-backs for Spain right now, and indeed, it has probably been one of the most fruitful positions on the field in terms of players coming through in the country for quite some time. When Spain’s last pair of full-backs Alvaro Arbeloa and Joan Capdevila both left the international scene, there was an array of talent ready to make the step up.
That trend has continued and we now see very good full-backs regularly missing out for Spain. Hector Bellerin for instance only made his Spain debut in May 2016 despite being established for some time at Arsenal, while someone such as Marcos Alonso at Chelsea is yet to even be capped.
Now, there is another name on the lips when it comes to talking about competition for Spain’s full-back positions. Pablo Maffeo isn’t any old case either, as he looks like he could have what it takes to become a key player in his role.
Born on the 12th of July 1997 in Sant Joan Despí, located in Barcelona, Maffeo started out with local side FC Levante Las Planas before being picked up by Espanyol in April 2003, and made his debut with the reserves at the club while just 15-years-old. Things moved quickly from there as Manchester City snapped the player up just three months later.
Maffeo was assigned to City’s EDS setup, first featuring for the Under-18 team then moving on to the reserves team. Manuel Pellegrini called up the player up on several occasions before he eventually made his debut competitively against FC Steaua Bucure?ti for the play-off round of the Champions League in August 2016.
The full-back also featured for City’s team that represented in the UEFA Youth League. In need of first-team experience, however, Maffeo moved to Girona - then in Spain’s second tier - in January 2016. After spending much of the time as a back-up, he soon established himself as first choice as Girona secured promotion to LaLiga. Maffeo has quickly become a key member of the team and has looked very comfortable in Spain’s top flight.
While it’s easy to pigeonhole most young full-backs as speed merchants that love to attack, Maffeo is slightly different to that rule. Maffeo’s particularly quick to read the game and shut out danger, while shows no intimidation when up against opponents.
Being so quick he is able to go toe-to-toe with any pace merchant, while he clearly has plenty of belief in his own ability. While most opponents suffer against Lionel Messi, Maffeo showed earlier this season he’s able to face such a task and come out on top. The on loan City youngster showed dedication and perseverance when it came to sticking to task, which at the time was man-marking the Barca star.
It’s extremely impressive how diligent Maffeo is when it comes to the defensive side of his game, and possessing plenty of balance means he can still over a threat when attacking. He has shown recently in his first minutes for Spain U-21 he can step into Bellerin’s spot with ease.
Undoubtedly there is one glaring weakness in Maffeo’s game and it could be a concern if he were to return to City in the long-term. While the Premier League is not the physical contest its often made out to be and slight players do succeed, Maffeo comes in at just 5ft 3in and is very lightweight.
While it allows him to sharply cut out danger and blitz across the pitch in no time, it does leave him open at times when facing a more physically powerful opponent. Maffeo is not going to outmuscle anyone, and instead, will rely upon that excellent reading of the game. He showed this when he shut out Cristiano Ronaldo, that even against a bigger opponent he can be much more assertive when it comes to judging passages of play.
What happens next?
Maffeo is now a key member of Girona’s first team, so helping the club stay in La Liga is his immediate priority. There are also commitments with the Spain U-21 side where it now seems he is first choice and right-back. If Maffeo can retain the level he’s shown so far this season then his reputation will be significantly higher than before the loan began.
A return to City is, of course, the priority, but that might come too soon given how heavily Pep Guardiola has invested in full-backs. Talk of another loan, this time to Valencia, has also been mentioned and might be the ideal next step to take.
Maffeo has plugged away admirably since being farmed out on loan by City, and out of all their players currently experiencing football elsewhere, it seems the full-back is the most primed for what the Premier League may throw at you.
He is still just 20 years old however and there is no need to rush things. He has worked hard to improve at Girona and if the return to City doesn’t come immediately he should not be too downhearted. Another loan, perhaps to a team in Europe, is perfectly feasible and could even be more beneficial than returning to City now.
The Spaniard is one of the most exciting young defensive talents in the world and he’s shown the ability to apply himself and also showcase his natural ability. His insistence on hard work will serve him well and with that in mind, his ceiling in terms of potential is extremely high.
He’s already stopped Ronaldo and Messi, but Maffeo is showing no signs of being content with just that.