As Eibar finally picked up their first home win of the season on the opening weekend of 2021, beating a stubborn Granada side by two goals to nil, AS boldly claimed that ‘a star had been born‘.
“La sensación de LaLiga“, the headline read. Not just any old sensation – THE sensation. Not Ansu Fati, Pedri or Takefusa Kubo, but a scraggly-haired teenager by the name of Bryan Gil.
Just 19 years old, the young winger left Granada feeling almost as battered as the rain stricken Ipurua pitch that day. Dancing between the muddy divots, leaving mud-prints in his tracks, the twinkle-toed winger took the most shots, sent in the most crosses, completed the most dribbles, created the most chances, received the most passes and scored 100% of the game’s goals.
When you consider that he was born in 2001, the same year in which another man on the pitch that afternoon, Jorge Molina, began his professional career, then you can start to understand what all the fuss is about. To assert such authority onto a scrappy game, stepping up to drag his teammates through the mud, takes not only the ability but confidence and character – the like of which it is rare to see in a player so young.
That being said, it is easy to see why there is huge optimism that the young winger, on loan from Sevilla, can take huge strides towards unlocking his sky-high potential this season. With regular game time, as well as coaching from LaLiga’s miracle worker himself, José Luis Mendilibar – the same man who brought a young David Silva to Eibar 16 years ago – Bryan Gil couldn’t be in a much better place.
Operating on the left-hand side of Mendilibar’s preferred 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, Bryan Gil is a constant, and vital, outlet, providing extreme width and verticality as he tirelessly tears up and down the wing. He is refreshingly fearless on the ball, and so is always given maximum freedom to attack from out wide, forever encouraged to use his dazzling pace and skill to take on his man. His heat map, provided by SofaScore, shows just how relentlessly positive he is in wide areas.
With the ball at his feet, there are few better players to watch in the Spanish game. Blessed with an unparalleled dribbling skillset, the tricky winger is a full-back’s nightmare – pacey, skillful and slippery – and always looking to do the unexpected. He’s a mischievous, free spirit on that left-hand side, as a league-high of five nutmegs shows. And, as his tangle of hair bobs up and down as he feints, twists and turns around hopeless defenders – almost like a Cruyff or a Best of a bygone era – you can see that he enjoys playing the game just as much as his adoring fans love watching him.
He’s not just a showman though. While his youthful exuberance and lightning-quick feet are easy on the eye, his effectiveness at beating his man is up there with the best, completing the 7th most dribbles in the league, with a 71% success rate – all, despite playing up to three games less than his closest dribbling rivals. He also sits 11th for progressive runs, showing his value to this Eibar side in terms of moving them up the pitch.
After beating his man, the boy from Cádiz often looks to race to the by-line and cross quickly, a tendency reflected by the fact he’s delivered the 2nd most balls into the box this season. And, in this respect, the young winger could not be with a better side, as Mendilibar’s Eibar, last season’s most prolific crossers, often strive to build up play out wide, before looking to find their experienced target men, Kike García and Sergi Enrich, in the middle. And, with expert movement and physicality around the six-yard box, Bryan has been able to find a teammate with 45% of his deliveries, a good rate for such a high-volume crosser. The fact that both of the side’s strikers sit in the top 10 for headed shots this season, tells you all you need to know about the increasing quality of Gil’s delivery.
If anything, he’s been very unlucky not to have more goal contributions in an Eibar shirt, assisting 26 shots and letting fly himself 17 times. However, his strikes against Granada, particularly his second, a pinpoint finish with his weaker foot from the edge of the box, point to his growing effectiveness in front of goal. A few days later, during a Copa del Rey run out at Las Rozas, he provided the match-winning assist just eight minutes after coming on to the pitch, pulling the ball back for Enrich to finish. He had to sit out the latest La Liga clash due to injury – an agonising 2-1 defeat at Levante – but the biggest compliment of all to Bryan is that you could really see how badly Eibar missed him.
His boundless energy has not only brought attacking joy for the Basque side, but it’s also provided much-needed fuel to Mendilibar’s infamous pressing machine, working alongside the industrious Takashi Inui and the unrelenting Kike to suffocate their opponents and win the ball high up the field. With 144 final-third presses, Kike presses from the front more than anyone else in the league – with Inui in 3rd place with 111. Yet, despite having played four games fewer, Bryan has completed 91, showing just how admirably this effervescent winger has bought into Mendilibar’s mentality. The tenacity and verticality that the youngster has brought to Ipurua could well be vital if they are to preserve their miraculous LaLiga status for another season.
The coronavirus pandemic has not been kind to the smaller football clubs of this world, and unfortunately, Eibar are no exception. This will undoubtedly be the toughest run-in of their 7-year stint in Spain’s top-flight, going into the second half of the season perched perilously close to the drop zone, right in amongst a cluster of six, scrapping sides.
He may only be there on loan, and he may only be 19, but Eibar already look to be somewhat reliant on Bryan Gil if they’re going to survive. And, well, if he can continue to wreak havoc down the flanks and keep Mendilibar’s ship afloat, LaLiga’s lovable underdogs could well look back on Bryan’s stint in the Basque mountains, 16 years from now, in much the same way that they look at David Silva’s – as a time when one of the modern greats played for their beloved, little club.