La Masia: Abel Ruiz

Centre-backs and target men aren't produced as often as midfielders and outside backs in La Masia, but when a top class striker does make the grade, there must be something special about him. All indications are that Abel Ruiz is quite special and nothing in his development has shown that he won't continue his upward trajectory straight into FC Barcelona's first team eventually.

The best strikers in the game are lethal in front of net, but that isn't what truly makes them dangerous in Barcelona's system. Their instincts off the ball, decision-making with it and timing of runs along the backline open up space for teammates that is crucial to their success. Ruiz has been earmarked as a player with the potential to do these things in the not too distant future for Barcelona's first team and so far he is right on track.

Born in the town of Almussafes in the Valencian Community, Abel Ruiz Ortega was brought to La Masia in 2012 at the age of 12 from Valencia CF's youth academy. He was promoted to Juvenil B for the 2015-16 season, to Juvenil A for 2016-17, and became a full-fledged member of Barcelona B last season as a 17-year-old. He made his Barcelona B debut in April of 2017 as a member of Juvenil A, an appearance that made him the first player born in the 2000s to play for one of Barcelona's senior teams. His first professional goal would come at the beginning of the following season, scoring in a 2-2 draw against Granada. His first team debut came this past March against Espanyol in the Supercopa de Catalunya, finishing off the last shot of the penalty shoot-out and helping the first team claim the trophy.

Under Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta and Gerard Lopez before him, Abel Ruiz has played both on the wing and as a centre-forward. It's not uncommon for an underage forward to express themselves on the wing before being comfortable battling with grown men for 90 minutes. Yet, on the now rare occasions that he is able to match up with players his own age, everyone can see that the 6-footer is something special as a striker leading the line. He scored an astounding 27 goals in 37 appearances with Spain's U-17 squad over the course of three years. He has since followed that up with seven goals in four caps for the U-18 squad and three goals in five appearances with the U-19 team.

As is the case with many of the stars in La Masia, Abel Ruiz has already done plenty of winning in his career. He lined up as a winger in Barcelona's UEFA Youth League win over Chelsea, scoring the third and final goal in stoppage time and assisting on Alejandro Marques' header in the 33rd minute to open the scoring. Yet, his accomplishments at club level pale in comparison to his international accolades. His teams have taken home the UEFA U-17 European Championship in 2017 and a Mediterranean Games Gold Medal in 2018 as well being runners-up in the 2016 U-17 Euros and the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Individually, he captured the Silver Boot at the 2016 Euros, the Bronze Boot with six goals at the World Cup and top scorer with seven goals at the Mediterranean Games.

Along with many of his Barcelona B teammates, Abel Ruiz penned a new deal in June with a 100 million euro release clause on a contract that keeps the player in Catalonia until June of 2021. After featuring in all three matches on the first team's preseason tour in the United States, Abel Ruiz came on in Barcelona B's opening match of the campaign against Alcoyano for the final six minutes of a game his team was trailing 3-1. The big theme for the young forward's season is how Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta not only utilizes him, as a striker or a winger, but how the manager helps him gain the confidence that he seems to be lacking in matches against players with more experience. Much like teammates Juan Miranda and Riqui Puig, Ruiz has immense pressure on him at all times due to the lofty expectations placed on him and this season will be pivotal for the player's development. He shouldn't be expected to appear for the first team outside of the Supercopa de Catalunya or an early round of the Copa del Rey, but he is certainly on the top of the list for forwards to keep an eye on from La Masia.