Expectations for second and third generation footballers can often be a heavy burden. Yet, with that burden comes an institutional knowledge that if applied with grace and patience, can bear a fruitful career. In the case of Nicolás González, following in his father Fran’s footsteps as a footballer, Barcelona has a player that seems to know how to get better.
19-year-old Nico has been a staple of Francisco Pimienta’s side this season, and has most recently moved to the pivot role in Barcelona B’s 4-3-3. This move has yielded nothing but positive results. In fact, his performances since the move seem to have caught the attention of the first team manager and put the pressure on the new board to focus on his renewal.
The move to the “Sergio Busquets role” is nothing new for the versatile midfielder, who also provided a competent appearance at right-back this season when asked. González spent some of his best years in the academy playing behind Robert Navarro, now at Real Sociedad, and Ilaix Moriba. He hasn’t been hurt by the growth spurt and muscle that he has added to his teenage frame over the last year; quite the contrary. His ability to shield the ball from defenders and use that space that the defender has now occupied to his advantage has been one of his most important skills.
For those following La Masia for a few years, Nico González is not a new name. While his father Fran made 380 official appearances and won two Copa del Rey trophies, three Super Cups, and a La Liga title as the left midfielder of the famous Super Dépor side, Nico has been in La Masia since the age of ten. His father was a quality La Liga player that spent his entire career at Deportivo La Coruña, and while he only scored 35 goals for the Galician side, he did play well enough to get a spot on the Spain squad for Euro 2000 after scoring two goals in qualifying. While Fran never suited up for Barcelona, he is 39th on the La Liga list of most appearances. In truth, not many Galicians have ever played for Barcelona. Celta de Vigo’s Denis Suárez is the recent example that comes to mind, but the Spanish Luis Suárez is easily the most famous.
Nico began his life by going to training with his father as the elder González reached the twilight of his career, and the younger González was soon scoring for local A Coruña side Montañeros against Barcelona in the Arousa youth tournament. That was all Barcelona needed to see and he was soon on his way to the Catalan academy.
He regularly captained youth sides, like that of Cadet A, and sometimes leapfrogged levels altogether, as he did to Juvenil B. So when he was about to turn 16 and his father was at the time a coach for Manchester City, there were doubts that he would continue on in La Masia. Juventus and Manchester United reportedly made their pitches as well, but Nico remained at Barcelona. He was soon playing with the Juvenil A side and participating in the UEFA Youth League. There he scored a winner against PSV as a substitute, and began to express himself more as an attacking midfielder as a 16-year-old.
These performances put him on Pimienta’s radar, and he not long after he was making his unofficial Barça B debut in the Copa Catalunya. Near the end of that season, he was awarded his first official Barcelona B appearance, playing the last minute of a close contest against CD Castellón.
He didn’t make a single appearance for Barcelona B last season, though he did make the bench for all three promotion play-off matches in July. He was also on the bench for the first two Barça B matches of the current season, though obviously that’s changed. He’s started 13 of the 16 matches since, and has filled in at defensive midfield in place of Jandro Orellana for the last five matches. Oddly enough, his only two assists of the season have come from that deeper position and Pimienta once again looks like he’s unlocked something in one of his teenagers.
Just like when he was 16, there will be other suitors hoping to stop him from remaining in Catalunya. However, there should be some calm around the situation if Ronald Koeman is honestly considering incorporating him into the first team next season. The successor to Sergio Busquets has been a role thrust upon many La Masia players in recent seasons – Sergi Roberto, Sergi Samper, Oriol Busquets, Jandro Orellana, and now Nico González. It’s still a bit early to hand over that mantle to a teenager, but Koeman could have a good problem on his hands with both Orellana and González shaping up to be the players that they have the potential to be.
Orellana, meanwhile, is another player in need of a contract renewal. The plan may be to have him do the pre-season with the first team and go from there. The 20-year-old is a captain for Barcelona B and is a big reason why they are currently second in their group.
Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017