The Curious Case of Sergi Roberto
Sergi Roberto was Barcelona’s very own Champions League hero after he scored a dramatic late goal to secure an aggregate victory against Paris St-Germain.
Barcelona made history by becoming the first team to overturn a first-leg 4-0 deficit as they knocked out PSG to reach the quarter-finals.
Neymar’s brace and then La Masia graduate Roberto’s last gasp volley in the final seven minutes helped Barcelona to win the tie 6-1 on the night and therefore 6-5 on aggregate.
His incredible winning goal was amazingly his first of the season so far after making 35 appearances.
A far cry from Luis Enrique’s first season as manager in 2014-15, when he made only 18 in all competitions and started only eight of those.
Roberto was once used as a central midfielder or played out wide, and found himself behind club captain Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arda Turan in the pecking order. When fellow midfielders Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes signed back in the summer, Roberto’s career at Barcelona seemed all but over.
But at the same time as over £100m’s worth of talent arrived at the Nou Camp, thirteen players headed for the exit door.
Amongst the departures were Dani Alves to Juventus, his long-term understudy Douglas to Sporting Gijon and versatile defender Marc Bartra to Borussia Dortmund.
And after Aleix Vidal’s injury problems over the past two seasons, a hole on the right side of defence was left for Enrique to fill.
Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin was heavily linked with a move to Barcelona in the summer but instead Enrique opted to use Roberto at right-back for the very first time in his career – and his bravery has certainly paid off.
Roberto has been at the club for fourteen years. At a time when Barcelona’s spending has begun to increase dramatically over the past few seasons, his importance as a home-grown talent has never been so valued.
He has come close to leaving his boyhood club in the past with his opportunities limited, but Enrique has been rewarded for the faith he has shown in a player that has largely been on the peripheral since being handed his debut way back in 2009 by then manager, Pep Guardiola.
It is easy to forget that Roberto is 25 years old. It looked for so long that he was to be yet another La Masia graduate that was soon to be forgotten, but he has finally announced himself on the European stage.