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Barça Unearth Real Centre Forward Who's The Real Deal 

16 Oct 2012

It has been a long time since Barcelona relied upon a striker who was an out and out No9 in the old fashioned centre-forward mould. Probably the last time was Patrick Kluivert although, naturally, Samuel Etoo will be counted by some.

The Cameroon legend, however, was often pushed to play wide by Frank Rijkaard and even by Pep Guardiola and while he was a prolific scorer who possessed a fantastic instinct about where the goal was and how to get their most quickly, there was much more to his game than what I'd consider the old fashioned model of someone who plays at the highest point of the team, is happy receiving with his back to goal and who simply lives to score.

Of course Henrik Larsson was the archetypical No9 (in old fashioned terms) at Celtic but when he arrived at Barcelona he wasn't simply required to undertake a much wider variety of tasks on the pitch his football intelligence kicked in and he adapted, brilliantly, such that his goal tally reduced a little bit but his impact on the team was both enormous and enormously important. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic loved goals, was a good target man and played adeptly with his back to goal but, to me, was more of a goalscoring No10. 

The Swede loved to dribble, to link with others in order to exhibit his fantastic technique and he would often drop back into the free space between the opposition defence and midfield where what the Italians call a 'trequartista' and some call a 'fantasista' might perform. Comparable to Francesco Totti or Alex Del Piero, for example.

Of course all these labels, centre forward, No10, playmaker, false 9, are arbitrary to an extent.

One coach will see the role of a centre forward in the Etoo style, pressing, linking, able to play like a winger, another will want him to play on the shoulder of the last defender, make the pitch 'longer' by pulling the opposition deeper and to not work back particularly much simply because the rest of the team has been tasked with serving the goal machine.

Radamel Falcao in how he plays and in how both Porto and now Atletico Madrid are built to supply him, plus Fernando Torres at his most prolific with Liverpool (when Rafa Benitez told him not to chase back once the ball was more than thirty metres from goal) are decent examples of this format.

David Villa and Leo Messi are together at a time when Barça certainly don't use a convential No9 - Villa often being asked to play wide left, Messi re-defining the 'false' No9 role which is often credited to Michael Laudrup but which wiser heads than me argue has its roots in the brilliant Hungary side of the 1950's and which was advanced by Alfredo di Stefano, scoring freely but popping up all over the pitch.

This weekend was swallowed up by an international fixture during which Cesc Fabregas' two goal assists during Pedro's hat trick for Spain in Minsk against Belarus underlined that the former Arsenal captain, too, often plays in the 'centre forward' role but is by no means an old fashioned No9.

However there was football chez Camp Nou.

About 500m along from the main stadium is the Mini Estadi where Barça B, under the guidance of Pep Guardiola´s closest playing partner in the original Johan Cruyff ´Dream Team´Eusabio Sacristan, beat Sporting Gijon 3-0.

It´s not long (18 months) since the Asturians managed by the late Manuel Preciado, ended José Mourinho´s almost eternal record (9 impressive years)of not having lost a home league match with Porto, Chelsea, Inter or Los Blancos when Sporting won 1-0 at the Bernabéu.

Yet a thrilling young centre forward (most definitely of the old school) Jean Marie Dongou, led the line for Barça B, scored one, caused the visitors´s keeper, Cúellar, to bring him down for a red card and generally caused havoc in a performance which indicates Barça will have a proper striker to bring into the first team within the next 12-18 months.

Regular readers will know that he´s one of the younger players ever to debut for the ´B´team, that he originates from the Samuel Etoo talent school in Yaounde, Cameroon but it´s easy to lose touch with the young prospects in the Barça system.

Suffice to say the 17 year old speaks fluent Catalan, is noticeably learning his trade, has accepted with good grace when it´s time to sit on the bench but then prove that the last ten minutes can still be match-winning time - he´s on track to be special.

Faster than a plummeting Austrian, Dongou is a natural finisher who has occasionally begun to snatch at chances following his full promotion to Eusabio´s side but who has the attention to detail in his training to find his feet, correct this, excel and spark endless big money offers from foreign clubs whose best guess is that his forward path might be blocked by Leo Messi, Neymar if he arrives, Fabregas´ability to play at center forward and the choice David Villa makes about staying or going at the end of this season.

That´s all for the future. For the moment it´s worth following this stage of Dongou´s development. He, along with Sergi Samper, Grimaldo, Deulofeu, Rafinha, Patric, Sergi Roberto and Sandro, are firm evidence that the structure, philosophy, teaching style and recruitment at all levels in the ´fútbol base´ system are functioning healthily. 

Soon it´s back to the multi million pound earning big boys, Deportivo away this weekend and further questions for Tito Vilanova and how to handle the so-called ´Fifa virus. But for the moment spotlight on Dongou - a real centre forward and, what´s more, the real thing. 

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