La Masia: Nico González

The pressure of being the son of a footballer is oftentimes too much for a youngster. It's even harder for the children when their fathers were club legends. Such is the case with 16-year-old Nicolás González, son of Deportivo La Coruña legend Fran González. Fran made 380 official appearances for the team that would become Súper Dépor, winning two Copa del Rey trophies, three Super Cups and a La Liga title as the left midfielder of the famous side. The elder González may not have been a Ballon d'Or contender, scoring just 35 official goals for the club, but he was a good enough player to make the Spain squad for Euro 2000 after scoring two goals in qualifying.

Three years before Fran concluded his playing career at Deportivo, his son Nicolás was born on January 3, 2002. Nico soon took up his father's game, sometimes accompanying his father to training and joining local A Coruña side Montañeros before moving on to La Masia. It was a slow integration to life in Catalonia at the request of his parents, appearing for Barcelona in four tournaments as a nine-year-old before moving to La Masia with complete commitment as a ten-year-old. Just as he did with Montañeros, where he actually played and scored a brace against Barcelona in the Arousa youth tournament, Nico has always played up an age level; a theme among La Masia's brightest players.

After captaining the Cadet A squad, Nico leapfrogged the Juvenil B level altogether and finds himself on a similar trajectory as Abel Ruiz from the last few seasons. The trust the club has in the player in catapulting him up the ranks comes after he showed trust in the club by putting pen to paper in September on a contract until 2021. The recent exodus of talent in his age group including Robert Navarro, Pablo Moreno and Adrián Bernabé to Monaco, Juventus and Manchester City respectively, had the club nervous that he would join the parade out of Catalonia. The player was reportedly close to leaving two seasons prior while his father was a coach for City before Fran had his contract terminated and made his return to Spain.  

Instead, with heavy pressure from both Manchester United and Man City that included much greater financial incentives than Barcelona could offer, the player chose Barcelona as the place for him to continue his development. On paper, the plan was for the player to grow in the Juvenil A side this season while playing in the UEFA Youth League, become the focal point of the Juvenil A side next season and finish the three-year plan with a promotion to Barcelona B.

That might be the hypothetical plan, but Nico's early returns to start the 2018-19 season indicate that Barcelona's plan may need to be accelerated. His call-up to the Spain U-17s hasn't stalled his progress at all, rather it seems to have galvanized the central midfielder with a flair for the attack. He has appeared in three UEFA Youth League games already this season, scoring the winner against PSV in twelve minutes off the bench, picking up 31 additional minutes in the match against Tottenham and putting the icing on the cake of a 2-0 win over Inter Milan with a goal in 19 minutes of action.

His work in the Youth League and with the Juvenil A squad, both under Denis Silva, has gotten him an extended look from Barcelona B manager Francisco Javier García Pimienta. Just days after scoring against Inter, he made his unofficial Barca B debut as a 16-year-old in the Copa Catalunya against Sant Andreu, playing the entire second half. His week of four matches in eight days was book-ended by two appearances for the Juvenil A side, going 90 minutes against Espanyol to start the week and finishing off with 40 minutes against Mallorca the following Sunday.

It is a wonderful sight to see the club pushing the player against challengers a few years his senior, and it will be interesting to see how he continues his gradual transition through the last few levels of Barcelona's ladder; albeit the hardest of them all. With a few more years of grooming under the watchful eyes of Silva and Pimienta and the guidance of a footballing legend as a father, Nico González could soon be proving why Barcelona were so desperate to keep him when so many others packed up and left.