Since 2008, Manchester City FC has had a gold rush of multiple proportions. First was literal gold as wealthy investors came in, bringing money, superstars and a sense of ambition. Second came silver, in the shape of Premier League and FA Cup trophies. Now we are beginning to see Gems coming through. What gems are these? Well these are ones that have been developed at the Etihad Campus, moulded by world class facilitates and are currently being buffed ready for display in the Premier League. City’s next generation of players look scarily good. The Crown jewel to them all for me is Brahim Diaz.
City’s diminutive wide man symbolises the movement towards a continental style that City have craved since Txiki Begiristan & co. came in to the club in 2012. As a 17 year old Spaniard, it probably comes naturally to him, but it’s not natural to City. He is the type of player they have had to shell out 8 figures in in the past, not someone they have had within the ranks, Brought for essentially peanuts (£200,000 – expensive peanuts of course) from Malaga in 2015. He has had a taste of first team football this season so far, but his best football is coming for the u18s/23s.
As alluded to above, this lad is something special. He has many facets to his game. The first thing that struck me with him is his first touch. On 3 separate occasions Vs Arsenal FC in a recent u23 game, he brought the ball out the sky beautifully, sticking to his left foot as though he coated it in adhesive pre-game. First touch is such a vital part of the modern game and this is something he doesn’t need to worry about. What he does with his first touch is that he uses it to set up the next few touches, meaning his is already one step ahead of his marker. Keeping with technical skills, he is a great finisher. He has a cultured left foot and opens his body up well to find the bottom corner.
He also has great composure when one on one, he doesn’t panic and leaving the keeper second guessing where he may put the ball, epitomised in his finish vs Norwich in the FA Youth Cup in March 2016. He has scored 7 and assisted 6 in 18 PL2 games this season, the goals evidence of his ability to finish. He is both footed, a rarity in the game. You see players who are very good with both feet but Brahim is fantastic with both. He takes penalties with his right foot and dribbles predominantly with his left. This ability is a nightmare for defenders as who knows which way to show him when he is sprinting towards you!
This leads wonderfully onto what may be his greatest attribute – dribbling. His ability to dribble is somewhat mind boggling. If you were to YouTube this boy, you will see videos on him beating 4/5 players at one time with seriously quick feet and a low centre of gravity. During a recent game Vs Arsenal u23s, he was dropping the shoulder effectively and dribbling from the right into the centre of the pitch, where he can really cause damage. When he was cutting from the right, he was using the fake shot so effectively and leaving players on the floor, bit like a certain number 10 for Barcelona.
From a non-technical standpoint, he also appears to have many qualities. For one, he is tactically flexible, playing as a wide man, a number 10 or a number 9. The modern game requires tactical flexibility and Brahim has shown in all positions played that he can influence games. Brahim appears to have game understanding. By this I mean that he knows when to drop deep and receive the ball as well when timing his forward runs. He is happy to play with his back to defenders and he uses his body well to hold of those trying to take the ball off him. What I really like is his confidence. In the game Vs Arsenal, he was trying lots of different manoeuvres to create space and chances, not all of them came off. The most striking thing with this is that he kept trying, never gave up and believed in his ability, which in this game may not have resulted in a direct assist or goal, but has plenty of times this season.
On this evidence, you would think that he is the finished article. Unfortunately for Brahim, he isn’t quite there yet. To be able to make that transition from second string to first team, he needs to be consistent. This isn’t consistent in goals, as few players are, but consistent in the creation of chances and being a handful. When I have watched him, I have seen him fall in and out of games, he needs to be a constant threat for large spells of games, much like Kevin De Bruyne & David Silva are.
He has a slight frame, so will need to adapt to men’s football. He doesn’t really need to get bigger or taller as players of his size prosper in the Premier League, but he needs to know to use your body to your advantage (which he does in PL2). In the Premier League it will be against very experienced defenders who know what they are doing, so he needs to further develop this part of this game. Final development point would be to find and nail down his position. As much as I mentioned above that tactical flexibility is fantastic at the highest level, he first needs to say ‘This is where I play’ – With chances of first team football not being guaranteed, when he does step in, he needs to be in the position to show his attributes most effectively, which for me would be playing off the number 9.
We have covered many areas of his game, those good and those that need improving. Like myself, you read these points and watch him play; you feel that he is similar to one man, the greatest player in world football, Lionel Messi. In this instance, the comparison is not fair and quite absurd, so if you do watch Brahim, merely use Messi as a template, not a comparison tool.
So, what does the future hold? Well like many products on the fringes of their relevant first teams, he needs to take the chance whenever it is afforded to him. Lucky for him, he is playing under a manager who looks at performances over names, so if Diaz warrants a start based on performances, he will get it. He needs to use the current players in the first team as learning tools of how to adapt to Premier League football, as it isn’t simple. Finally, he just needs to do what he does for the u18/u23s, as his football there is superb and I’m sure has Guardiola intrigued. I have no doubt that by this time next year; Diaz will be a name on lips of fans up and down the country.