As some regular readers might be aware, I'm a big enthusiast of 20 year-old former Barcelona starlet Cristian Ceballos, who was one of the breakout stars of the Tottenham U21 team which battled all the way to the inaugural League final last season. So much of an enthusiast, in fact, that I would personally argue that at this stage he now sits only behind Thomas Carroll in the queue of young players who deserve to be breaking into the first team next season.
When Ceballos put pen to paper in Spurs Lodge after a successful trial in the summer 2011, it was to a fanfare of positive proclamations from the coaching staff, who collectively hinted that the deal may down the line end up representing a coup for a Tottenham side looking to lay down the foundations of a quality homegrown first XI. Tim Sherwood, then in charge of managing Spurs' reserve side, enthused that: "There was other interest in him too. He needs to be patient and if he can fulfil his potential we believe he can play at the top level".
The reasons for Ceballos' release from the Barcelona academy that nurtured him through his youth career remain something of a mystery; some accounts indicate that a lack of application prevented the winger from meeting the level of development expected of him. If this truly is the case, then the young Spaniard has certainly spent the last two years making up for lost time. 13 goals in all of his U21 League appearances for Tottenham last season, as well as star turns in the NextGen Series and even a bench place in a crucial senior tie against Everton, represent huge recent strides forward in Ceballos' journey towards those top-level tests he was earmarked for at such a young age.
In many respects, Ceballos plays the same role as fellow U21 golden boy Andros Townsend, another naturally left-footed wide player who has developed into an inside-out forward in his time with Spurs. Like the former QPR loanee, Ceballos brings pace, directness, good footskills and a hunger to get on the scoresheet to the side to the right flank which he operates in from.
Where I feel he actually bests Andros, however, is in his vision and ambition. Ceballos is the prototypical product of the Barca youth system that emphasizes above all else the importance of constantly keeping one's head up and looking to play the ball into space. As well as stamping his mark on games with a venomous shot, he is thus also exceptionally accomplished at playing defence-splitting through balls which have made scoring a breeze for U21 teammates such as Jon Obika and Shaq Coulthirst. Ceballos' flair, married to his explosive attacking movement, means he presents an incredibly varied and unpredictable threat to opposition defences, as the highlights video we shared the other day illustrates.
Despite the fact that Aaron Lennon is just coming off of the season of his life and Andros Townsend will inevitably play some kind of role for Spurs next term, I feel that giving Ceballos a look in even if only in regular Europa starts and cup appearances is the bare minimum acknowledgement Andre Villas-Boas should provide next year. In the last 12 months, he has proven that he can function in a high-tempo, fluid attacking system- that he can link play, chip in with goal contributions, create space for other players and rack up assists within AVB's preferred style of play. Undeniably, he's still a little on the raw side, and can be guilty of overambition in the shots he takes on and the way he looks for the risky pass when a simple one will sometimes do. But like Thomas Carroll, he fills a need for this team in the short term and, in the long term, purports to have all of the skills needed to actually progress the capabilities of the team.