The story is told in Seville, the first time Bryan Gil showed up at the club’s training ground, one night in November when he was 11 years old, they faced the biggest, strongest and toughest boy they could find. That would show how good he really was. Tall and blond, they called the boy The Russian, after the character of Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. His name was actually Ivan too, and although he was Leiva, not Drago, from Malaga rather than Siberia, he was an intimidating figure. Bryan disarmed it.
The director of the Sevilla academy, Pablo Blanco, remembers the story, returning later with a photo of the team, the two boys by then on the same side. There is something in the legend: Russian it is twice the size of the rest. “He wasn’t the fastest or the most agile,” admits Blanco. But then Bryan, a skinny kid a year below the rest, did this to everyone and still does. “He came with something wild, untamed in him,” says Agustín López Páez, the youth coordinator, “and we never wanted to take that away from him.”
Speaking with those who have worked with the new Spurs signing, many names come up, comparisons that help but do not completely clarify. Luís Figo, Paco Gento, Rafael Gordillo. Roberto López Ufarte, Diego Capel, Nolito. Johan Cruyff too, although that’s partly because of the hair. To be sure, comparing him to the Beatles is, but it fits the feeling that he has risen from another era. “He’s electric, a player that Spain hasn’t seen for years, from a young Joaquín or Joseba Etxeberría,” says Iñaki Bea, Eibar’s assistant coach last season.
The scout for Barcelona in Andalusia saw Neymar in it, although Bryan, told by Cadena Ser, just laughed. Instead, he mentioned Ángel Di María: “Lefty and skinny like me”. Bea even mentions Lionel Messi: “I’m not saying I’m at the same level, but there are elements. He will show you the ball and then he will walk away. He won’t accept you for speed or strength; It will surround you, the ball so close that opponents commit many fouls ”.
However, despite all the comparisons, if there is a repeating word, along with imbalance, the ability to “unbalance” a game, to beat a man – is different. And if there is a name that does it too, especially among the Sevillistas who witnessed his first steps and accompanied the later ones, it is José Antonio Reyes.
Bryan was born in February 2001 in Barbate, along the Atlantic coast from Trafalgar and across the water from Tangier, a city of 22,500 inhabitants. It was there that Sevilla, opponents of the local club, saw him for the first time. “He floated with the ball,” says López Páez. “He was the reincarnation of Reyes,” recalls Blanco, attracted by their shared style and path: skilled leftists bound for North London. Even the price was similar.
Initially, Bryan traveled to training twice a week with his father, 170 km north in a car that, in the words of one coach, “was not good.” The family was humble, enduring serious shortcomings: “Resilient, good people who never lose their smile,” says López Páez. Blanco says: “Bryan had some bullshit: brave, dedicated. I could say a thousand things about him, all good; when they are not good, they are better. “
He soon moved into a shared room at the club’s residence in Montequinto, and decided to stay even after landing his first professional contract. There they had put him on a diet designed to gain weight because he was very skinny and on occasions he had gone without eating, but Sevilla knew he was special. Others did too: Manchester City and Barcelona approached. “We were safe,” says López Paéz. “He loves soccer, he loves to win. His psychomotricity was perfect, he had resistance, he received the blows “.
After debuting with the first team at age 17 and becoming the first boy of the 21st century to score in La Liga, loan agreements followed: 12 games in Leganés, most from the bench; 29 at Eibar, but if everything else changed, the weakness and style remained.
“We joked that he should cut his hair, get a mohawk, because the look didn’t help him,” says Unai Bustinza, the downhill captain of the Leganés, whom Bryan joined at age 18. “With his physique, age and that look, that Beatles touch, it was like something from another era. Actually, the first impression was, ‘Damn, how is he going to deal with the situation we’re in?’ But in the first session, those doubts disappear. It has personality. ‘Give me the ball.’
“When things go wrong, players focus on making few mistakes. A child enters who is going for it and that can make you nervous. Or it’s raining and you think, ‘Let’s see if it can really do it.’ But he doesn’t back down, he doesn’t mind getting kicked. He’s not the type of guy who says, ‘Don’t hurt me’ in training or avoid contact. He dares to do it, always looking for one against one. He was like a street gamer who came and went and went. And he also had stamina and athleticism, which surprised us. “
There are parallels to Granada’s visit to Eibar muddy and raining last season. “You think Bryan will drown in this,” said then-Eibar manager José Luis Mendilíbar. Scored twice.
“His main characteristic is his determination to stand up to people,” says Mendilíbar, a likeable old-school coach who played an important role in encouraging and developing an old-school player. Bryan became Eibar’s first international match in Spain, generating recognition and pressure. “A southpaw on the left is rare these days, but he is a pure winger: he can go in and out, but he is better off outside. You want an opponent to dribble against; put the ball in the space and it will wait to face the defender. Hit people, get to the line. And even if the ball is taken from him, he tries again, he still wants the ball. “
The word jinking could have been invented for him, only it’s from another era too. A “cheeky” player, says former Atlético striker Kiko Narváez. One whom Jorge Valdano compared to a racing car. The sports director of Eibar, Fran Garagarza, sums it up: “carry, divide [opponents], finish ”, a player who forces opponents back, towards their own area. López Páez compares him to the bullfighter who approaches the animal and then runs away. “Art”, he calls it. Blanco refers to him as a “piggy bank”, Which is a bit rude and roughly translates to a player who keeps hitting the defender.
“He has the self-confidence that David Silva had, if not the same bad milk, that touch of evil, “says Mendilíbar. “He has it with himself, and that’s not always good. He gets frustrated if things don’t work out, if he can’t dribble or catch the ball, and he has to improve that. He has to win fumbles, anticipate. Can’t wait for it. But he never hides and won’t back down because they sleep with him. Players like this are rare and I think people will like it in England. “
It may be that he starts as the man to change the game from the bench, and there will be doubts of course: age, physique, language, style. Inexperience: He has only played 54 first division games. Barbate is a long way from London, although the weather in Leganés and Eibar can help, despite two declines. “That hurt him; it can be difficult to deal with, ”says Garagarza. “And in England he will have to build muscle.” Bustinza says: “The descent is not pleasant, but that’s where you learn the most, unfortunately.”
Garagarza says: “He is calm, shy: the opposite of what he is in the field”, which can even help. Bea says, “Bryan is very mature. Fame won’t have a huge impact. I can’t imagine him on a yacht with four companions, throwing in € 20,000. Your head is right. He listens. Some think they know everything; Noel. I miss players who show no respect to opponents and he is one. In the first game, it passes four o’clock: you think, ‘bastard’. You don’t even need space. If he can only score goals, because he has everything else. And boy, does he have a personality? He will go for them, without a doubt ”.
Ask the Russian.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism