The rate of improvement for Cristian Tello has been extraordinary. Around this time last year, the young forward was rightly overshadowed by Lionel Messi and his five goals against Bayer Leverkusen. The mix you got with Tello was that of a player who could score, as he did twice on that night in the Champions League, and one who could frustrate even the cool Pep Guardiola on the touchline.
As recently as December, Tello’s future was far from clear. It remained to be seen whether he’d extend his contract with Barcelona, while fellow-La Masia graduate Isaac Cuenca went on loan to Ajax for first-team football for the remainder of the season. It’s not to say the talent wasn’t there, but Tello was getting very little in the way of a consistent run of games with Barcelona.
When he did make an appearance, the impact was huge. Tello’s pace is frightening, and on so many occasions he’s used it intelligently and to the benefit of his team. But not only does he come into the team as a player who is a natural out wide, he’s someone who is rapidly improving his finishing. From 11 shots on goal in the league, he’s scored seven. One of his goals against Zaragoza earlier in April looked strikingly similar to something usually crafted by Thierry Henry cutting in from the left.
Even now, we’re not too sure what the immediate future holds for Tello. Barcelona have sent out conflicting stories, first citing him as someone likely to depart come the summer, then stating their desire to keep hold of him. You have to believe that his excellent performances this season – and many, many of them have been of the highest quality – has forced the club to backtrack on their initial decision.
But clubs in England should be looking at Tello in the coming months, especially if his route to the starting XI at Barcelona is blocked by new arrivals, namely Neymar. Even with the calamitous performances of Alexis, as well as the lack of goals from Pedro, Tello has been unable to find much in the way of starts in high-profile matches. This is all in spite of him being one of their better performers from the flanks this season.
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When I wrote about Tello towards the end of 2012, it didn’t seem likely that he would have it in him for the physical battle of the Premier League. That was five or six months ago, yet now he looks more than able to go beyond just transferring successfully to English football; a testament to how much he’s improved in such a short period of time.
The player’s devastating pace would be a phenomenal asset in England, notably with teams like Arsenal who often lack quickness in their counterattack. Not only that, but Tello is starting to emerge as a player who could make the transition to centre-forward. There is absolutely nothing to suggest he won’t add greatly to his goals tally in the coming years.
You’d have to ask questions such as how far a long he is in comparison to players like Theo Walcott. At this stage, Tello certainly knows how to use his pace to greater effect. In terms of finishing, they may be on equal footing, yet if Walcott doesn’t show quick and sustained improvement by next season, it’s likely Tello could surpass him as a forward in either the wide or central roles.
Teams like Liverpool should also be on the lookout. The club hit a real bargain when they signed Coutinho from Inter Milan in January, and Tello would fit a similar bill should they pursue him this summer. It would be a stretch to say the Barcelona youngster would be an adequate and immediate replacement should Luis Suarez move on; he wouldn’t. But Tello is a player who would provide added firepower to a team who will need to start sharing the goal scoring responsibility.
Such is Tello’s versatility in attack, he’d be more than capable of switching roles with Coutinho, who also plays from the left but is able to play centrally. Provided Liverpool keep hold of Suarez into next season, the addition of Tello could offer Brendan Rodgers a devastating attack.
The technical class of other La Masia products isn’t really there for Tello, and at times you’d be forgiven for assuming he came from another cantera. Notably he spent a short time with Espanyol before returning to Barcelona in 2010. But despite that, he makes up for it with incredible upside in the rest of his game. This season has offered even more evidence that this is a player who is set to have an extremely exciting future in the game.