Sergi Roberto: Barca’s unsung hero

From a youth prospect to a first-team hopeful, to an eventual reject, to a useful squad player, to a key player, and now to a captain. Sergi Roberto’s journey at Barcelona is something many thought they would only ever see in a storybook.

Before being named captain at his boyhood club, lets take it back to where it all began for Sergi – around 100km away from the Camp Nou in a town called Reus. This province of Tarragona has given us Antoni Gaudi and Sergi Roberto, however for this piece I will only be talking about the great artist.

Sergi would join the famed La Masia academy as a 14-year-old. Making his first team debut at 18, the central midfielder was seemingly destined for greatness. The academy that produced the two greatest midfielders of all time also produced extremely high expectations for its graduates. Barca fans wanted heirs for the great duo of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, and so many talented youth players would be branded with that tag, regardless of whether they wanted it or not.

Being Catalan-born, Sergi was rated even higher than initially expected. However, as other Masia players also found out, these expectations carried a weight. Bojan Krkic’s entire career was derailed by comparisons to Lionel Messi and a lot of fans were disappointed that Marc Bartra was not up to the level of Carles Puyol.

However, I believe Roberto was different. While between 2010 and 2015 his first-team appearances were limited due mainly to the fact that Xavi, Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets were all flourishing as the greatest club side of all-time appeared, the kid from Reus did not lose faith.

Some would have described his potential career at Barcelona as almost non-existent. They would have advised him to leave, to create a career elsewhere. However, what they didn’t know was that Roberto was not destined for any football career, he was destined for a Barcelona career. It was Barcelona or bust for the life-long fan. He just simply did not want to play elsewhere.

He was advised to look at offers from other clubs, maybe a loan spell to potentially boost him into the first-team selection. However, these were not offers that were seriously considered by Sergi. While some would call him naive for being so hooked on creating his career at Barca when it didn’t look as though the opportunity was there, I would call it faith.

He stayed, he trained, he worked hard, and most of all, he never lost that faith. So when the right-back slot opened up following the departure of Dani Alves in 2015-16 and Coach Luis Enrique called Sergi up to step into that role, there was no hesitation.

There were no complaints that this wasn’t his position, because to him, he would be comfortable in any position with that Barcelona badge on his chest. It did become obvious that Roberto was not a natural full-back but the opportunities to play there did not cease. When Alves left in 2016, Sergi and Aleix Vidal were the only two candidates for that position.

While Sergi struggled against Julian Draxler in Paris in 2017, his improvements in that position were clear.  He was such a hard worker, he was unlikely to ever let this opportunity pass him by. The 2017/18 campaign was where he truly flourished. He became the best right-back in the country and even managed to keep Nelson Semedo out of the team for some of the campaign, which is a big achievement considering the Portugese player’s calibre and comfort in the position.

He also became a fans favorite, the young-faced Catalan was loved by the Camp Nou crowd, only helped by his winning goal in the greatest European comeback of all time. It just had to be Sergi who put that ball past Kevin Trapp, a moment of ecstasy for all those moments of uncertainty while in the Barca ranks.

So when it was announced that he would be the fourth captain for Barca in the 2018/19 season, I could feel nothing but happiness. Only one word could possibly describe that decision. Deserved.