There's still not been any official confirmation from Barcelona (no press release, not even a line on their website), but on Wednesday, Monaco revealed they had completed the signing of 18-year-old Jordi Mboula from the Catalan club. It won't be one of the biggest transfers of the summer; it will, though, be one which should draw reflection at Barcelona. Why has the star of their Under-19 team's run to the UEFA Youth League semifinal this season decided his career is better served elsewhere?
Mboula went viral earlier this year when he scored a stunning solo goal in the Youth League round-of-16 win over Borussia Dortmund. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, he ghosted past a number of Dortmund defenders, showing off his pace and trickery before producing a fine finish. If Barca had wanted to keep him a secret, that plan went out the window on that day in late February.
Four months later, though, he's not even a Barca player, let alone a secret, after Monaco paid his €3 million release clause and gave him a five-year deal. The French champions lured him with the promise of being involved with the first-team and he was no doubt won over by their impressive track record with young players in recent seasons.
Kylian Mbappe is the stand out example. And Mboula has more than just the first two letters of his surname in common with this summer's must-have player: they're both rapid wide-men, too. Depending what happens in the duration of the transfer window, Monaco could have Mbappe on the left and Mboula on the right at times next season.
Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva are among the other young(er) players to make headlines this season at Monaco, but the Ligue 1 side's trust in youth pre-dates them and Mbappe. James Rodriguez, Anthony Martial and Yannick Carrasco are also players who benefited from first-team exposure at the Stade Louis II.
Keeping all that in mind, it's not hard to see why young players would be enticed by a move to Monaco: Champions League football, a chance to progress, a shop window... but what Barca must reflect on is why one of their young players falls into that category? Could they have done more to keep him?
Ignoring the money situation, which is unknown, possibly not. Mboula was brilliant at times for the U19s and earned his three appearances for the B team, but there are hang-ups at the club about his consistency and strength. Those hang-ups aren't necessarily long-term concerns, but they meant first-team football in the immediate future was not something they felt compelled to offer. Perhaps they could have tried to find a way around that -- a loan move, maybe -- but recent examples show there are no guarantees Mboula will ever get a chance.
Sergi Roberto and Rafinha are the last players to establish themselves in the first-team squad from La Masia. They're now 25 and 24. Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez came close (ish) but one's up for grabs this summer and the other was let go for free last year. Sergi Samper has been unable to make his mark despite all the lofty predictions of a successful career, while the likes of Alejandro Grimaldo, Hector Bellerin and Adama Traore are long gone, plotting their path to the top elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Barca's recruitment policy hasn't exactly sent a positive message to youngsters hoping to break into the first-team. Last summer, they brought in five outfield players, all aged 22 at the time, to add depth which some local journalists felt could have been provided in-house. One of those players, for example, was Paco Alcacer, who joined as a €30 million backup as Munir left for Valencia on loan and Sandro joined Malaga for nothing.
Players will always be tempted by offers elsewhere, of course. Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Jordi Alba are all examples of players who had to leave the club before making it into the first-team. The argument is that the reason players are leaving has begun to change. Whereas before it may have been for the money on offer in England, now they're leaving because they're not valued at Barca; because opportunities are more likely to knock elsewhere.
It's complicated, especially in modern football. The demands are high and you can half-understand why Barca may feel unable to risk young players before they've proved themselves at the top level elsewhere. Should that be the case, though? That's just one of many questions the club should be asking themselves. The loss of Mboula -- who will no doubt be linked with a €70 million return in three years if he kicks on -- provides them with another opportunity to reflect on what they're doing with La Masia and what they want to do with it.