In the summer of 2011, a 16-year-old Jon Toral made the move; along with best friend Hector Bellerin, to Premier League Arsenal from Spanish giants Barcelona for a reported fee of £300,000. Unlike Bellerin, Toral has struggled to break through into Arsene Wenger’s first team and hasn’t been helped by unwanted injuries as well as an array of attacking talent ahead of him. However, fast-forward a few years and he is now making a name for himself, still under contract with Arsenal, in the Championship with Birmingham City.
In some ways, he is playing for his future as his current deal with The Gunners ends in the summer, but I don’t think that there is any doubting that he will get a deal there or certainly somewhere else. His performances week in week out for The Blues have been nothing short of phenomenal. Toral is a magician on the ball and has great ability in finding space, team-mates, and the back of the net.
He made the perfect start on his debut for the Midlands side as he headed in the winner in a 2-1 success over Reading on the opening day of the season. Then, just seven days later, Toral scored again as he latched onto a Clayton Donaldson flick on to fire a volley into the bottom corner from 25 yards in a 2-2 draw with Burnley. Straight away, Toral became a fan favourite and it wasn’t just for his goals. As a ‘number 10’ he has it all – from shielding the ball, bringing others into play, going past opponents and even using his 6ft+ height to win aerial duels.
I don’t want to big up the 21-year-old too much but some of his play mirrors that of Mesut Ozil and many other top attacking midfielders in the top leagues. Even at this early stage in his career, I would suggest that he even has some attributes that Özil would only dream of having. At such a young age, he also has that ability to play a key pass and make the right decision. He has three assists to his name to date this season but that certainly doesn’t reflect how much influence he has had on the attacking side of Birmingham’s game.
Not only that, Toral will work hard for the team. He can have his off days where things don’t quite go to plan but he is someone who can provide just that one bit of quality to win a game. The young Spaniard will run himself into the ground and is often seen back in his own half tracking runners and will defend from the front at every opportunity. Last season, Toral was on loan at Brentford where he was mainly used as an impact player off the bench. During his time at Griffin Park, he only started eight league games in The Bees’ play off campaign but still managed an impressive six goals and two assists. This included a hat-trick in a 4-0 victory over Blackpool.
This time around though, it has been a different story. Toral has already started 21 matches and we are still only in February. Gary Rowett sees the loanee as a main attacking threat and he has certainly contributed to helping the team in their push for the play-offs with his six goals. Of those six goals, three have been headed ones, two have been strikes with the left boot and the other came from his weaker right foot.
This just shows that the youngster has it all and has a wide variation in his game. I would certainly recommend that anyone reading this checks out his goal against Ipswich, where he scored a sensational volley in a 3-0 win for The Blues. His position behind Clayton Donaldson has recently come under threat as Rowett brought in Diego Fabbrini for a fee of £1.5 million. The Italian also possesses superb quality and offers a different dynamic to the team so that competition should benefit Toral in the long term.
It still remains to be seen where Jon Toral will be come the start of next season. Gary Rowett has already stated that he would pay up to £2.5 million for his services but I think he is destined for the Premier League. The Blues may still reach the promised land via the play offs and Toral will have a big part to play in the end of season run in.
The development and improvement I have witnessed from this fine player week after week since he joined Birmingham in the summer leaves me with just one thought. Jon Toral has adapted to the English game, proved he can cope with the physicality of the Championship whilst still showing immense ability on the ball and will be ready for the step up. The Premier League is waiting and it is only a matter of time before Jon Toral graces one of the best leagues in the world.
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