Journeyman Aleix Vidal gets Barca reward for fighting spirit
Less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the highly emotional treble celebrations which took the Barcelona stars all around the Catalan capital, the club confirmed the first signing ahead of next season: Aleix Vidal from Sevilla.
The 25-year-old right winger, who has also excelled as a right-back under Unai Emery, has signed until the summer of 2020 and cost the club a reported €18 million plus a further €4M in add-ons. Given the fact that Barcelona are not allowed to register any newcomers until January 2016, the player has agreed to spend the rest of the year adapting to his new teammates in training until the ban is finally over.
If Vidal was recently rewarded by a call-up to join the Spanish national team in their upcoming friendlies against Costa Rica and Belarus, it is certainly thanks to his admirable fighting spirit and a huge amount of self-belief even when faced with potentially career-ending set-backs.
Although the latest arrival at the Camp Nou is now in a position to join forces with quadruple Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi and develop under the guidance of World Cup winner Vicente Del Bosque, his career so far can be described as an unpredictable roller-coaster, which surprisingly for even himself, has ended up coming full circle.
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Back in 2001, Aleix was one of the many Catalan youngsters in Barcelona's youth system trying to make a lasting impression. Interestingly, he managed to build a very effective attacking partnership with an 11-year-old Jordi Alba, with the pair developing an almost instinctive understanding in front of goal, often alternating positions as either first or second striker.
However, manager Xavi Llorens decided that neither of them was good enough to remain in the Blaugrana youth system. As is the case with the vast majority of Camp Nou hopefuls, Vidal's dreams were shattered when the club decided to release him after just one season -- a cruel reality that, with the benefit of hindsight, was an obvious mistake which has cost the club millions.
From that point on, young Aleix continued his journey towards professional football in a huge variety of teams such as Cambrils, Gymnastic Tarragona, Damm, Espanyol and even Real Madrid. In fact, the 25-year-old has played in ten different teams in the last ten years, with his season on loan at Greek side Panthrakikos definitely his most exotic experience to date.
Despite being a born fighter, Vidal has admitted to being dangerously close to giving up his dream of making a living as a footballer in a number of occasions, tired of having to constantly battle for recognition in the many teams he has been part of.
Fortunately, his decision to join Almeria in 2011 finally gave his career a well-deserved boost, becoming a regular for the first team after a season of regular appearances as a right winger in their reserve team. If Los Rojiblancos returned to the Primera Division only one year after being demoted from the top tier of Spanish football, it was definitely thanks to Vidal's enthusiasm, consistent excellence and relentless desire to succeed at all costs.
Unsurprisingly, Sevilla's astute sporting director Ramon Rodrigues 'Monchi' did not hesitate to take the opportunity to sign such a promising youngster for a mere €3 million in the summer of 2014. The rest, as they say, is now history.
In a situation which is bizarrely similar to that of former Infantil B teammate Alba, Vidal found himself under the expert eye of Unai Emery and getting regular playing time as a full-back rather than a wide winger. A remarkable 47 appearances and even six goals later, the Catalan can be proud to have played a key role in taking Sevilla to their best ever point tally in La Liga and an impressive fourth Europa League title.
Now 25 years of age, Vidal returns to Barcelona a much more prepared, mature individual who will do everything within his power to grab the chance to succeed at the Camp Nou with both hands.
Dangerous when overlapping, Vidal's physicality allows him to run towards the bylines with ease. He may not be as technically gifted as Dani Alves, but his splendid form makes him a nightmare to defend against, a reliable player who is more than ready to make an impression up and down the right flank as soon as he becomes available for selection in January 2016.
His huge defensive improvement thanks to Emery's guidance, together with the spectacular fitness which allows him to push forward whenever needed, will give him a real chance to challenge for the starting spot in Luis Enrique's XI even if the Brazilian international decided to accept the club's offer to renew his contract and stay at Barca for yet another season.