WHEN Daniel Alves marvels at your speed, you know you have got something a bit special about you.
The Brazilian is one of world football’s quickest, but even he was left blown away by the sight of Cristian Tello in full flow.
“He has a seventh gear,” was Alves’ assessment of the 21-year-old wideman, who is set to clinch a loan move to Liverpool this week. Reds fans seated in the lower Centenary or Main Stands can expect plenty of excitement once the Spaniard settles into life on Merseyside.
Tello, as you would expect from one schooled in Barcelona’s La Masia youth system, marries his speed of foot with speed of mind. Technical excellence is a given at the Catalan giants, but Tello’s path to the first-team at Barca was hardly the most traditional.
Born in Sabadell, an industrial city 30 miles north of Barcelona, which earned the nickname “The Manchester of Catalonia” due to its thriving textile industry in the 19th century, Tello, unusually for a young, talented Spanish footballer, progressed unnoticed until the age of 11. He played for Can Rull, a small local club, until his precocious talent caught the attention of Barcelona scouts.
He joined the club’s ‘Alevin’ side in 2002, and was leading goalscorer in his first season. Progressing alongside the likes of Marc Muniesa, Martin Montoya and Marc Bartra, all of whom have made the step up to Barca’s first team, the nimble, two-footed forward developed fast, his temperament as impressive as his talent.
A season on loan at CF Damm followed in 2007/08, but Tello’s progress appeared to have stalled when his Barca contract was allowed to expire at the end of that season.
Disappointed, but unperturbed, he joined rivals Espanyol, and within two years he had made his debut for their ‘B’ team, who were then playing in the Spanish second division.
Tello played four times at that level, but Espanyol were destined for relegation.
A return to Camp Nou, in June 2010, was his reward and, under the guidance of former Barca star Luis Enrique, and with Pep Guardiola flooding his first-team with academy graduates, he began to flourish. He played 23 times for the ‘B’ team in his first season back at the club, scoring four goals.
The following season saw him make his senior debut in a 1-0 Spanish Cup win away to the minnows CE L’Hospitalet. Guardiola named 10 La Masia graduates in his side for the return leg a week later, and his faith in youth was richly rewarded. Barca won 9-0, with Tello netting twice.
Tello would feature for Spain at the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011, alongside Chelsea’s Oriol Romeu, and Dani Pacheco of Liverpool. He scored in his side’s second-round shootout win over South Korea, but was off the pitch as they were dumped out by Brazil in similar fashion at the quarter-final stage.
With David Villa’s broken leg and Pedro’s loss of form, Tello found himself, along with fellow ‘B’ teamer Isaac Cuenca, elevated to Guardiola’s first-team at the beginning of 2012.
His La Liga debut came in a goalless draw with Villarreal in January, and he would go on to make 15 league appearances before the season was out, scoring three times.
He also marked his Champions League bow in some style, scoring twice as Barcelona thrashed Bayer Leverkusen 7-1; Lionel Messi’s five-goal haul that night ensured Tello’s impressive contribution slipped under the radar somewhat.
Now, though, he appears ready to step out of the shadows. He featured, albeit as a substitute, in Spain’s underwhelming Olympic Games campaign
Liverpool have been crying out for pace and penetration in wide areas for longer than most at Anfield would care to remember. Brendan Rodgers will hope his loan star’s rich potential can be further tapped into this season.