Not many British footballers decide to ply their trade in Spain. The fact that Gareth Bale is already the Brit with the most LaLiga appearances, with just 118 to his name, shows how few move to the Iberian Peninsula and stay there. Even fewer make it at one of the two Spanish giants of Barcelona and Real Madrid, yet Marcus McGuane hopes to be one of the rare success stories.
Last Wednesday evening he made his debut for the Barcelona first team, coming on for the final 14 minutes of Barcelona’s Catalan Super Cup match against Espanyol. Even if this is a low-key tournament, for which Ernesto Valverde only included eight senior players in his 20-man squad, it is still an impressive achievement for McGuane. Not since Gary Lineker last wore a Barcelona shirt in 1989 had an Englishman represented Barcelona – although it should be noted that Toni Duggan has been playing for Barcelona Femení since her move to Catalonia last summer.
“It was a massive experience and a massive achievement for me and my family,” the defensive midfielder said in a post-match interview. “Words can’t really describe how it felt waking out there, but it felt really good and I’m really proud.”
McGuane should be proud. The 19-year-old only arrived in Catalonia at the very end of the January transfer window and already he has played in four of the B team’s five league matches, while he has obviously impressed enough for Valverde to select him as one of the dozen youth teamers to be taken to the Catalan Super Cup.
As well as playing briefly in that match, which Barcelona won against Espanyol on penalties after a 0-0 draw, he has taken part in first-team training and been welcomed in by the superstars of the club, especially by Philippe Coutinho, who noticed McGuane’s English accent. By working hard in the day-to-day B-team training sessions, he has pleased Gerard López and his coaching staff, with López calling him “a complete player”. Academy director José Mari Bakero is delighted too. McGuane is also reportedly progressing well in his Spanish lessons, helped by the fact that his girlfriend, who he lives with, speaks the language.
This should come as no surprise to those at Arsenal who oversaw his rise through the English club’s youth set-up. As a strong and quick defensive midfielder who can pass with either foot and who can fill in at centre-back too, the talent was there for all to see. Arsene Wenger was a big fan too and even used McGuane in the Europa League against BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade earlier this season. Yet McGuane was frustrated by a lack of first-team chances and viewed the opportunity to join Barcelona’s B team – who are one of just two Spanish B teams who can offer second division football – as too good to refuse.
“I was getting frustrated by a lack of opportunities,” he said in an interview with Sportsmail. “It’s good to train, but I did not want my performance to plateau and stay at the same level. This step made sense. I thought if I kept working hard, I would get opportunities. It didn’t come. There’s no grudge, but I felt the best thing was to find another way. If you want to be at a place to develop and get first-team football, maybe you have to look elsewhere than Arsenal.”
That’s exactly what the Englishman did, with over 20 clubs interested in his signature. While he considered Sassuolo and their promise of first-team football, it would have been too hard to turn down Barcelona, a club he has long admired, and he left in January after 12 years with the Gunners, just six months before he would have become a free agent anyway. “It’s a dream come true,” he said on the day of his presentation, and it seemed like he genuinely meant it.
Having arrived on a three-and-a-half-year deal, with a buy-out clause of €25m, Barcelona seem to believe McGuane can go far. He is confident too and will be the first to admit that a second-half run-out in the Catalan Super Cup, essentially a glamour friendly between Barça and Espanyol, wasn’t what he came for. His next objective will be to feature in the early rounds of the 2018/19 Copa del Rey.
Breaking into the Barcelona first-team squad on a regular basis obviously isn’t easy, but McGuane is one name which would both look out of place and at the same time fit right in on a future Barcelona teamsheet.