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Aug 24, 2014

Munir El Haddadi is not Leo Messi

Munir El Haddadi grabbed most of the headlines after Barcelona's convincing 3-0 win over Elche on Sunday, and understandably so.

The 18 year-old youngster didn't show any nerves whatsoever despite playing his first official match at the Camp Nou and made his La Liga debut a truly memorable event.

Luis Enrique explained that only those who earn their place in training would get playing time during his time at Barca. A simple statement that most coaches are prepared to share in front of the media, but one that not many have managed to follow through with in recent Blaugrana history, unfortunately.

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True to his word, Enrique didn't hesitate to include Munir in his starting 11 following Neymar's absence due to an ankle injury. The rest, as they say, is now history. Far from hiding behind the shadows of more experienced teammates, the youngster decided to take centre stage and grab his chance with both hands.

The Madrid-born forward responded to the manager's trust with class, talent and ambition. Perhaps a surprise to those who haven't followed the Catalans' encouraging preseason, the youngster didn't take long to show why he is lauded as the most promising attacking prospect to come through the club's youth system since the Pep Guardiola era.

Munir proved to be an unpredictable forward, a nightmare to defend against. His generous effort and constant mobility when not in possession of the ball enabled him to create spaces, an aspect which instantly boosted Barca's attack.

Constantly incisive and eager to chase the opponents' net, the teenager smashed the crossbar spectacularly, forcing fans to jump out of their seats in awe. Not happy with that, he then went on to score one of the classiest goals the Camp Nou faithful can remember -- from his first shot on target as a top-flight professional.

Born in Madrid, Munir joined La Masia back in 2010 after impressing with Rayo Majadahonda while on loan from Atletico Madrid. Despite receiving offers from major clubs such as Real Madrid or Manchester City, joining Barca's prestigious youth academy was always his first preference. Diego Simeone must be kicking himself after his club failed to retain such a gifted young player.

- Corrigan: Luis Enrique hails 'magic' Lionel Messi
- Ledwith: Messi, Munir shine in Barca win

When Munir's coaches realised that his obvious talent was linked with a surprisingly mature, humble personality, they instantly knew they had someone very special in their hands. The youngster's progression through the Barcelona ranks has therefore been much quicker than anticipated, mainly due to his remarkable work ethic and eagerness to listen to advice.

After becoming top goal scorer at the UEFA Youth League, it didn't take long for Munir to be promoted to Barca B to continue his progression at Segunda Division. While most aspiring players generally spend a couple of seasons at the second tier of Spanish football or go out on loan while getting used to an increased level of physical and mental demand, the 18-year-old forward made his debut with the first team after only four starts for the reserves.

In a move which resembles the way in which Guardiola embraced Pedro during his first season, Luis Enrique seems to have taken Munir under his wing despite his lack of experience at the highest level. A true fighter, the humble teenager responded with plenty of details which have already excited millions of devoted Cules around the world.

However, those who are already claiming that Munir is the next Lionel Messi should calm down and stop making such disproportionate statements.

The ESPN FC panel analyse FC Barcelona's 3-nil win over Elche in their La Liga opener as well as Lionel Messi's goal-scoring exploits.

Sure, the new kid shone impressively in his debut, but comparing him to the best football player ever could only set him up for failure. Too much adulation or unhealthy expectations at an early stage of a youngster's career is never a good sign.

Munir has an incredibly exciting future ahead -- rather than burden him with expectation, let's just sit back and let him grow into the player he has the potential to be.

The Quote: "Munir breaks with a speed that's very difficult to deal with. But he does it all so naturally. He's got a lot of character and he'll be a great help to us, as will so many other players. It was a nice night for everyone, but especially the ones who were making their debuts at the Camp Nou. The Barca fans have gone home happy" -- Enrique.

Francesc Tomas

Francesc Tomas is a Catalan columnist for ESPN, writes for The Guardian and runs Barcablog.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TomasESPN.

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