by Francesc Aguilar

Remember the movie ‘Forrest Gump’, directed by Robert Zemeckis starring Tom Hanks? The main character was able to run very fast as a child, a skill that impressed American football coach Bear Bryant and that allowed him to enter the University of Alabama. And he ran and ran until he reached triumph in sport, success in his life. With Alejandro Balde, the young and talented Barça footballer, something similar has happened. As a child he was fast as a lightning. Few could compete with him. His family, his teachers, his coaches saw in him a future great athlete capable of surpassing all times and marks. But he wanted to be a footballer and play for Barça above all things, as he did in the end.

Few young players shine in the firmament of European and world football like Alejandro Balde today. Barça knows it and tries by all means, within a crisis economy, to shield his contract until 2027, with a 1,000 million euros clause. There are many clubs looking for a versatile left-back of their category. The list of suitors is large. In addition to his qualities, he adds an indisputable patrimony: he is only 19 years old, he would be a fully amortizable signing. At his age he is already a starter of the Spanish team with which he attended the World Cup in Qatar with Luis Enrique Martínez as coach. His career goes hand in hand with that of his close friend Xavi Simons, now at PSV Eindhoven and starter with the ‘oranje’ selection of the Netherlands. They were inseparable in their time in the lower categories of FC Barcelona. They are part of the great generation of 2003.The Barça academy player dreams of achieving the ‘Golden Boy’ trophy, of being the heir of his friend Gavi, the last winner of the prestigious Tuttosport trophy for the best under-21 in the world. He aspires to follow the line of winners led by Pedri. Without forgetting Ansu Fati, awarded by Tuttosport Internet users. In the Barça locker room there is a lot of talk about the ‘Golden Boy’, it is an award much appreciated among the young players of Xavi Hernández, an incentive for those players who aspire to make history at the Camp Nou.

His history recalls the football origins of Lionel Messi. In both cases luck was decisive. With Leo it was that he went to a match as a spectator with his grandmother Cecilia and a player was missing and they put him for luck in the history of football. He didn’t stop until he became the best in the world. With Alejandro Balde the same thing happened, more or less. He had come to witness a match of his older brother Eddie, who played in Sant Martí Condal, and they needed a defender. They put it to complete the 11 players and were speechless to see the speed and dribbling of that kid of only four years, totally unknown to everyone.
His rivals were three years older. Alejandro excelled so much in athletics that they had him compete with older boys and those who were given a few meters of advantage at the start of the races. It didn’t matter.

Alejandro Balde always ended up winning because of his physical superiority and speed. He began to stand out in the Sant Gabriel school, a club specialized in football of lower categories closely related to RCD Espanyol, a team that soon signed him. But the “parakeets” club didn’t know how to keep him, he was captured by the ‘scouting’ of FC Barcelona, a team in which he joined when he was eight. Then he played as a striker. His dream of wearing the Barça shirt was already a reality, although the first team of his idols was still far away. When he was a cadet footballer he suffered a serious injury, with the fracture of a tibia, which kept him away from the playing field. Barça gave him all their support and, as happened with Lionel Messi, he entered the center of the Masia with half board.

He trained, studied and ate at the Barça club’s training centre, but he went to sleep at his house, in the Sant Marti de Provençal neighborhood. His parents had a “Phone Center” there.
They formed a bourgeois family, without economic difficulties, but also without frills. From there his career was brilliant, but luck again influenced his story. It took several circumstances to come together for Alejandro Balde to have the opportunity to make the leap to the first team from Barcelona B, in which he only played a few games since he was promoted from the youth team. It was Javi García Pimienta, then coach of the Barcelona subsidiary and current coach of UD Las Palmas, who saw, before everybody, the tremendous potential of Alejandro and made him burn stages despite the fact that he was much younger than his teammates.

The stars had aligned, a sort of astral influence that has “favored” the economic needs of the current Barça, back under the presidency of Joan Laporta (in his first time he had collected triumphs with Ronaldinho, Messi and Guardiola) after the disastrous management of the Board of Directors led by Josep Maria Bartomeu. The Catalan club had a wartime economy and was forced to transfer Junior Firpo, the Dominican full-back, to Leeds. Only the veteran Jordi Alba remained in the squad as a left winger to face all the challenges of a complicated season, that of 2021.

Dutch coach Ronald Koeman, the hero of Wembley, who was then leading the first “blaugrana” team, was brave by giving the opportunity to Alejandro Balde. As happened with Pedri, Gavi or Ansu Fati, among others “canteranos”. No one should forget the audacity of “Rambo” Koeman. Barça signed a professional contract with Balde until 2024 with a clause of 500 million euros. His contract is negligible (about 160,000 euros per year) compared to what his colleagues in the first team receive.

Alejandro Balde’s career was already unstoppable and Jordi Alba’s reserve continued to take away his starting place not only in Barça, but also, as said, in the Spanish national team. On 14 September, he made his debut as a substitute for Jordi Alba after 74 minutes in a 3–0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage.
Alexander is the son of Saliu and Gledys. His father is originally from Guinea Bissau, as is Ansu Fati’s father. His mother from the Dominican Republic, the same country as Junior Firpo. Both parents are emigrants displaced from their places of origin in Barcelona, where the Barça talent was born on October 18, 2003.
As for “La Roja”, fate once again played in Balde’s favor. José Luis Gayà, left-back and captain of Valencia, did not overcome an injury and had to leave Spain’s concentration before the start of the World Cup in Qatar. Coach Luis Enrique, who knew Alejandro’s qualities well, surprised everyone and summoned him. The favorite in betting was the experienced Marcos Alonso, his teammate at Barça (ex Chelsea and Fiorentina).

Balde’s international career with Spain began in 2019 with the U16s. In the Under 17 he won with the “Torneo Esenti”, a preparatory event for the 2020 European Championship subsequently canceled and postponed for 12 months. In August 2021 he was called up for the first time with Spain Under-19, making his debut the following month in a double match against Mexico. On 22 September 2022 he did so with the Spanish Under-21 national team in a friendly with Romania in Cluj Napoca that ended in victory (1-4). On 18 November 2022, he was called up for the World Cup. His debut with the senior team of the “Roja” took place just 5 days later, on November 23, in the second half of the match against Costa Rica (7-0).
Alejandro ended up playing 4 games in Qatar at just 19 years old. A challenge. Luis de la Fuente, the coach who replaced Luis Enrique at the helm of Spain since December, also trusts the qualities of Alejandro Balde as a left-back for the “Red” in the Nations League now on the horizon that will see the Iberians engaged in the semi-final of Enschede against Italy.

At Barça, Xavi Hernández blindly believes in his qualities and that is why he ended up giving him the title ahead of Jordi Alba, although there are games in which he used both, as against Girona, using them in two on the left wing, Alex further back and Jordi theoretically as a left-handed winger. Balde matured in forced marches as required by the needs of the team. His speed allows him to reach, again and again, tirelessly, the attack positions. He learned not to be hasty, to cross wisely and to provide valuable assists. For Xavi, Alejandro is one of the secret weapons to attack rival rearguards with many solutions. He also improved in defense, not losing position as easily as before when he went too much in attack. He knows how to wait for the moment to manage the lane and does not lose sight of his opponents. His speed also allows him to act as a “corrector” defender and help teammates in difficulty. Remember his name: Alejandro Balde Martínez. Worth it.