Barcelona’s 1-0 home win over APEOL Nicosia in their Champions League opener would have been an otherwise forgettable match, but for the performance of the club’s latest teenage sensation Sergi Samper.
Aged just 19, the holding midfielder was making his first-team debut in the centre of the park alongside Xaxi and Sergi Roberto and didn’t look at all out of place, with his assured outing evoking memories of past greats to have made their mark in the famous red and blues stripes.
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Samper delivered a passing masterclass which belied his tender age, but he was also just as efficient on the defensive side, more than covering for the absence of resting pair Sergio Busquets and Jaiver Mascherano.
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His performance also earned the praise of manager Luis Enrique, who, having been appointed this summer, has made a point of giving the club’s up-and-coming talent more opportunities to impress.
‘Samper did well. He is a player I know perfectly - and he just debuted by playing 90 minutes in the Champions League!’ he told the media afterwards. ‘Congratulations to him. He showed personality and he is another great discovery for the club. He will help us this season.'
Samper has been on Barca’s books since the age of six, but Arsenal’s reported interest in the La Masia product has been well-documented in recent weeks, with his contract understood to contain a release clause which could see the Gunners secure his signature for a cut-price £9.5 million fee, as outlined in Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo.
However, the chances of another Cesc Fabregas-like situation appear somewhat slim at present, with the Spain under-19 international declaring his intent to remain in Catalonia, as he bids to follow in the footsteps of hometown heroes like Pep Guardiola, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Busquets.