Today we stop to examine the case of Ibrahim Afellay, midfielder for FC Barcelona who will be competing with the Netherlands at Euro 2012, which starts today. Newcastle has been named alongside other Premier League sides as a possible destination for Afellay, who is reportedly available for £6 million.
I sat down with Luis Mazariegos, who writes for SBN's fantastic FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes, to pick his brain about Afellay. I hope you'll find his responses as informative as I did. A big thanks to Luis for providing his insight on this player.
First off, what is your overall impression of Ibrahim Afellay? If you had to pick 1 or 2 characteristics to define his game, what would they be?
He is very versatile, two-footed, and has very good technique. He has a pretty good burst of speed, and this is accentuated by the fact that he is quite a good dribbler which makes him even more dangerous. Those are perhaps his main strengths. He is also known for having a good long shot and accurate passing. His crossing is fine but perhaps not world-class for a wide player. He is not very good defensively but hopefully he won't be called to do that too often. Despite being fairly tall, 5'11", I don't think I've ever seen him win aerial battles. His goal return for Barcelona isn't very good, but that's partially because of the role he's been given.
More on Ibrahim Afellay after the jump.
Would you say that Barca supporters are happy with Afellay's body of work?
The short answer is yes. But to elaborate, he was a promising player at PSV - a young, regular starter with Dutch NT experience. He arrived at Barcelona in the middle of the season in January 2011 for a fee that was reported as 1-3 million euros. I remember reading comments at the time and some suggested it was a misprint, and it really was 13 million euros. At the price (which was I think ultimately reported at a little less than 3 million), he was a total bargain. He was mainly used as a sub for David Villa and in cup games. Memorably, he came on towards the end of an intense match against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals. It was the first leg, at the Bernabeu, and the game was tied 0-0. He got a simple outball on the right wing, faked cutting inside, raced towards the outside and past Marcelo, and crossed it to an onrushing Messi who tapped the ball into the net. Barcelona would win the Champions League but it was a very crucial, "supersub" moment. Since then, Afellay was badly injured at the beginning of the season and only came back for the final games. He was decent in the these games, none of them were terribly important and he was still recovering. So his body of work so far is small but it does have a very important moment.
I'm curious about what you have heard regarding Afellay's desire to leave Camp Nou. Are you resigned to his departure, or have rumors of his impending departure been overblown?
I have heard that there is interest in him but nothing to suggest he is about to leave. Obviously there is competition in any spot Ibi would play in. Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello have impressed on the wings (although rumor is many teams would like to purchase them too) and there might not be too much playing time if he stays. I've heard conflicting reports about whether the new coach, Tito Vilanova, considers it important to keep him. I have heard Afellay would rather stay, but at this point who knows. Very little is certain. There is apparently interest from several sides so Newcastle might have competition if he ultimately does leave.
I was doing a bit of research on the player when I came across his ESPN Soccernet profile, which actually compares him favorably to Johann Cruyff. This strikes me as a very aggressive and perhaps silly comp. Is there any kernel of truth here?
Well he is Dutch and plays for Barcelona? Ronald Koeman made a comparison in 2008 that he saw some things in Afellay that are Cruyff-like. Being that Koeman was Ibi's coach at PSV at one point, it is perhaps a personal compliment (you see coaches do this to motivate young players a lot.) Or maybe it was to try to facilitate a transfer? I really don't know. While Afellay is fairly versatile and has good technique, as far as Cruyff comparisons go... I'm quite sorry but Cruyff is, from what I have seen and what I understand, one of the top players ever and of course Afellay is not in that galaxy.
We've noticed that Alan Pardew wants players who are capable of playing multiple positions. What do you think of Afellay's versatility? (This may tie in with the Cruyff question.)
He is fairly versatile, as he can play on either wing because he is good with both feet and can play centrally as well, "in the hole" behind the striker. He has played even further back in midfield for Barcelona at times, as a player more towards the very middle of the park.
You mentioned in our prior conversation that you had watched and were familiar with Ibrahim while he was still at PSV. Can you describe how he has grown as a player during his time with Barca?
Well, the answer to that is he probably hasn't grown much. As I said, he was injured for a very long period and most of his appearances have been as a subsitute. What we've seen at Barcelona is more or less what's been promised. What you could say is he has shown he can be competitive at the highest level. The Dutch league is not exactly known for great defending but La Liga is a higher standard and he's looked fine. I suspect his one-touch and short passing has improved as that is kind of all we do here, and he was quite good at that in his final games last season. But those games were all essentially meaningless (he didn't participate in the Cup Final) so I'd be wary of reaching too many conclusions based on those.
Obviously the recent ACL injury is a concern. We'll (hopefully) get to see him play at the Euro, so we should have an idea about whether or not he's truly back to 100%. I'm wondering about any other injuries. Is he a guy who tends to pick up knocks? Does he typically heal quickly or will he spend a significant amount of time in the whirlpool when there is a problem?
I think injuries are certainly a concern, especially after such a major one. He is fairly thin and not particularly strong. On the bright side I don't recall him having a serious injury prior to the last one. Sometimes it's just bad luck.
Given what you know about Newcastle's midfield situation, how well do you think Ibrahim Afellay would fit into the squad?
Afellay does give depth to a team due to his natural versatility. You said Newcastle need better crossers of the ball, and I think while Afellay is a good crosser and probably better than Jonas, he may not be quite the best.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I think Afellay would be a good but not perfect fit at Newcastle and that, while his cost would be accessible, there would be difficulties in his transfer. Basically, if Barca don't want to sell him they won't, and even if they do, there are reportedly some big-name teams with Champions League places willing to bid for him. I guess I'm in no position to rule out the move but I would hope Newcastle are exploring several other possibiltiies.
Thanks again to Luis. Make sure you check out Barca Blaugranes for the latest news and commentary on FC Barcelona.