Luis Enrique is in no doubt about the potential of Munir El Haddadi, the latest talent to come flying off Barcelona's prolific production line.
“It’s not easy to manage the pace at which Munir is progressing,” said the new coach, who handed the young striker his league debut in the opening game of the season just two weeks ago.
Munir marked the occasion with a goal, and despite having made only one Liga appearance since then and won a solitary cap at U-21 level, he subsequently received an invitation from Vicente del Bosque to join the Spain squad.
Drafted in as a replacement for the injured Diego Costa ahead of La Roja’s first UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier against Macedonia on Monday, the 19-year-old Barcelona starlet came on with 13 minutes remaining to become Spain’s fourth-youngest debutant, behind Bojan Krkic, Jose Samitier and Sergio Ramos.
Both Munir and his international coach were full of positivity after his cameo, which bodes well for the future. "I feel it went very well, it is a dream came true," the forward said. "Now, I must keep on working with my club. Playing with Spain was my decision and I am very happy with it," he added, having also been eligible to play for Morocco.
Del Bosque expressed his joy at being able to give the youngster his first chance in the red of the land of his birth, and feels he give the reigning European champions a different option in their front line. "It brings me great happiness to have had the chance to give him his debut. If he plays in the future, we know that we have a very fast striker to call upon, with great scoring ability."
That international debut is the latest milestone in a meteoric five-month rise to stardom that has seen the teenager emerge from the Barcelona youth team to receive the plaudits of the Camp Nou and praise from the esteemed New York Times. Writing in the American newspaper of the player’s appearance in the season-opener against Elche, Rob Hughes said: “Munir El Haddadi stepped into the senior team as if he were born to do it.”
“I’m happy at making my debut and scoring, which I know is not easy, but I’m going to keep on working every day to try and break through new barriers,” said Munir, Barça’s latest blue-eyed boy.
Destined for the top
Munir remains as shy and reserved as he was in the days when he used to play on a patch of rough ground in his home town of El Escorial, just north of Madrid. His family arrived there in the 1990s, his Moroccan father having travelled to Spain illegally in a boat and his Spanish mother having left her native Melilla in search of a better future.
The boy’s silky left foot was discovered by Antonio Gabaldon, the man who unearthed another Spanish goalscorer in Emilio Butragueno. Since then Munir’s parents have seen their wildest dreams fulfilled.
After starting out with a local side in nearby Galapagar and then playing for Santa Ana, Munir was snapped up by Rayo Majadahonda, a club affiliated to Atletico Madrid. Despite a tally of 32 goals in 29 appearances as a 14/15 year-old, Los Rojiblancos overlooked his talents, as did Real Madrid, who turned down the chance to bring him into their youth set-up.
There’s no need to get carried away because he’s got a long way to go. He is shaping up very nicely, though.
Barça’s scouts were keeping close tabs on Munir, however, and the club decided to swoop for him after a 2011 match in which he scored the perfect hat-trick, converting goals with his left foot, right foot and head.
Three years later Munir found himself doing pre-season training with his idol Lionel Messi and then starting the Liga match against Elche, scoring his side’s second in a 3-0 win.
“It’s a dream to play with Messi, but it’s all down to hard work and sacrifice,” said the modest tyro, who at the age of only 18 years and 357 days became Barça’s third most precocious goalscorer behind Bojan and La Pulga.
Lighting the way
“He’s a very complete player and he’s intelligent in his movements and decision-making,” said Eusebio Sacristan, his former coach at Barcelona B. “Just like the players of old, he’s got that instinctive knack of knowing where the ball’s going to go. He knows when he has to go deep, when he has to dribble and when to pass to a team-mate.”
Those intuitive qualities were honed on the street rather than in an academy, making Munir a unique player. His name means “source of light” in Arabic, and the Barcelona starlet is determined to shine bright for many years to come.
As he himself acknowledged on his Twitter page a few days ago, his sudden emergence is but the first step on a long and arduous road: “It’s hard to make it and even harder to stay there. That’s why I’m going to keep on working.”
“He’s got an eye for goal, he’s mobile and he’s competitive,” said his appreciative club coach, who knows an exciting player when he sees one. “He’s going to help us out, but there’s no need to get carried away because he’s got a long way to go. He is shaping up very nicely, though.”