Amongst the list of forwards and attacking midfielders at Barcelona, one-time Dutch wonderboy Ibrahim Afellay is not the first you would name. He might not even be in the top five or even ten, but this only reflects on the strength Barcelona have in that department rather than being a slight on his qualities. He’s apparently on Spurs’ radar, as much for what he has shown previously because over the last two seasons he has suffered two major injuries and thus not even played 20 games.
A cruciate ligament tear at the start of the 2011/12 season curtailed what had been a positive start to life at the Camp Nou where he’d made 21 appearances after arriving in January 2011. At the time, his move was considered something of a surprise as he seemed destined for first team football elsewhere, but he managed to force his way in to the team and kept his spot with his extreme pace, trickery and direct running. Even back then, Pep Guardiola was concerned about his team being one paced, and Afellay was purchased to add the kind of speed they didn’t really have. His potential importance to the team as a pace outlet was dampened when the club spent over £30m to get Alexis Sanchez in the summer of 2011, thus putting another obstacle in Afellay’s path.
Despite this, there was still optimism about his chances but a cruciate ligament rupture in pre-season saw him sit out the entire 2011/12 season. When Guardiola moved on, the new manager Tito Vilanova placed much less of an emphasis on pace, as Barcelona moved back to their roots of fluid movement and ball retention with players trained at La Masia. It pretty much made Afellay a bench warmer at best so despite his impressive early flashes he was loaned out to Schalke. After a decent enough start, he was injured in November and out for the rest of the season once more.
So why should Spurs be interested in someone so injury prone? Well, the key is the talent he possesses. Afellay got his move to Barcelona having enjoyed a 13-goal season in Holland and was in red hot form on a run of seven goals in 19 games in the season in which they signed him. His combination of speed, smoothness, trickery and goal threat made him a great prospect, desired around Europe.
Afellay is best when played wide on the left in a 4-2-3-1 type system, where he has the freedom to roam centrally as well as using his pace to outstrip full backs and get crosses in. The one flaw in his game historically is that his assists totals aren’t great. He tends to do things at full speed all the time which can lead to some imprecision and frustration but also spells of devastation.
With or without Bale in the side, Spurs still need pace on the left. Moving Bale centrally was a great decision but they necessarily lost the width he provides on the left. Spurs should be planning the squad on the assumption that they will have Bale next season and so signing a player who would allow Bale to remain central could be key. Afellay has injury concerns certainly, but so did Rafael van der Vaart when he arrived. If they can get him fit and use him properly, he could be a real bargain. It’s a big “if” considering his injury history but an intriguing option nonetheless.