In every cloud, there is a silver lining. There has certainly been a cloud over Betis this season, but there’s also been a bright sliver of a silver lining, and that sliver is called Dani Ceballos.
I’ve been talking about Dani for a couple of years now and it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 20 years old. After a quiet first season in La Liga, Dani has stepped it up this year and has been the shining light, the player with fight, the man of Betis. It’s not all been smooth sailing for him in what has been a bleak year for the club and at times he has single-handedly tried to drag the team through a game, quite often to his detriment, but his talent and desire is clearly there for all to see.
Who is Dani Ceballos?
In 2013-14 Real Betis were a club in demise, despite playing Europa League football, which like with many clubs caused more harm than good in the end. The club finished dead last in La Liga, a full 15 points of safety and averaging less than a goal a game. Just before Christmas they sacked Pepe Mel to no avail and now were looking at a miserable future in La Segunda.
To have any chance of return to the elite level of Spanish football they needed a new hero, someone who they could pin their hopes on and drag them back to where they belonged. Up stepped an unlikely candidate: 18 year old Dani Ceballos.
Ceballos has grown and matured hugely since the start of the 2014/15 season. In doing so, he became ever more vital to the team, imparting more influence on his fellow players and enshrining himself as a favourite amongst los béticos in the stands, mainly due to his skill and never-say-die attitude. At such a tender age, only a special player can march into the starting line-up of a big club and stamp their authority like Ceballos has done.
More than anything this is what fans love, a player who shows commitment and puts full effort game-in, game-out. His passionate displays of celebration, flamboyant shows of disappointment, and yes at times play-acting, may be thanks to Ceballos’ up-bringing in the flamenco and bull-fighting cradle of Utrera, just South of Seville, the same place where Jose Antonio Reyes hails from. All of these special traits have marked Ceballos to the fans as one of their own.
The Rise of Ceballos at Betis
Ceballos made his first team debut in April 2014 against Real Sociedad, even before he had played for the Betis B team. By this point in the season, it was common knowledge that Betis wouldn’t be competing in La Liga next season and Ceballos was drafted in to gain a bit of experience and provide something new for a team in self-destruct mode.
In and amongst all the negativity surrounding the club emerged, as La Marca newspaper put it, ‘la nueva perla’ of Betis – the new pearl. He took to the pitch wearing number 46 and with his name spelt wrong (reading Ceballo), but put in a performance far beyond his years to water a few dry mouths. It has been that way since then, every more evident this season – Ceballos providing hope for a struggling club.
Since this debut, he has made 98 starts for Betis and scored seven times, the pick of the bunch being a 25-yard strike that ricocheted in off the post against Barcelona B a few years back and the superb volley against Atletico Madrid in May 2017, showing great technical ability with a ball dropping from a great height.
In a relatively short space of time, Betis have looked to Ceballos to provide them with impetus, creativity and flair. It wasn’t planned like that, but it’s what has happened. The club have come to heavily rely on the player and without him promotion to La Liga may not have been a certainty back in 2015. His first season in Spain’s top flight was fairly quiet and he didn’t make the impact, largely unfairly placed on him, that many fans thought he might. The 2016/17 season was much better in a much worse Betis team. It must be said that former manager Victor, despite all his critiques, put a lot of faith in Ceballos, which in turn has built up his confidence and Dani paid respect to the manager on Twitter upon his departure.
What type of player is Ceballos?
His goal against Barca B as mentioned above, showcased much of what Ceballos is about: a lovely, silky sidestep and change of direction from left to centre, followed by an instinctive, accurate strike that hit the post before rippling the net. His Atletico Madrid goal highlights his technical prowess and willingness to take a risk.
Ceballos has been likened to Isco and a young Wayne Rooney from his Everton days. As well as these comparisons, I think the kid from Utrera has the same skill-set, technique and promise as Ross Barkley and perhaps a touch of Steven Gerrard, including the recklessness and unpredictability at times. Some big boots to fill.
Ceballos has Utreran blood – the quick feet of a flamenco bailaor and the fighting heart of a rampaging Iberian bull.
He likes to start out from a wide position where he can drift inside to have more of an influence and cause a bit of havoc. He loves being able to roam and pop up in different positions, where he has impeccable timing. Of his seven goals, many have come from timing his run perfectly and being in the just the right place at the right time to provide a finish to the move. The others are fantastic strikes.
Like many young Spaniards, he possesses excellent feet, great skill and very accurate passing. He enjoys running with the ball and his quick movement means he suffers a lot of fouls against him, which may be a reason why he does tend to exaggerate contact at times and playact. Let’s be honest, this is the same for the vast majority of players in La Liga, even becoming more and more prominent in the Premier League. What sets Ceballos apart however, is his passionate, hardworking, emotive displays. He gives everything on the pitch and more often than not departs a game with very little left in the tank.
The future for Dani Ceballos?
Ceballos is a clever football who can do defensive duties as well as attacking with aplomb. As mentioned above, he wants to do everything and at times was found far too deep last season where he couldn’t make an impact further up the field. This was maybe his way of trying to compensate for a team lacking quality. As much as he wants to, Ceballos needs to learn that he can’t physically do everything.
Since the departure of Beñat to Athletic Bilbao, Betis have had a huge creative hole to fill in the middle of the park. Los verdiblancos have suffered greatly without Beñat and have still not replaced him properly. As a result, goals have dried up. With a little more direction and experience, perhaps pushed 10 yards further up the pitch, Ceballos could be the perfect fit.
In 2015 he played a key role for Spain in the U-19 European championship in Greece, which Spain won, making it three wins in five tournaments and perhaps laying the foundations for a new wave of Spanish dominance in the years to come.
Already Ceballos has made just short of 100 appearances for Betis, scoring 7 goals. His future is extremely bright and it’s not going unnoticed, with unwanted attention (from a Real Betis point of view), from Chelsea, Arsenal, strong interest from Real Madrid and a few other European clubs. In the summer of 2015 there was a lot of speculation regarding Ceballos’ new contract and it looked like he might be on his way, but he eventually did sign and now has new long-term contract with the green and whites.
Whenever highlighting a young talent to watch out for in the future, you are usually saying watch this space in two or three seasons, however, the case of Ceballos is different. He’s already played two full seasons in La Liga and is improving all the time. I think the 2017-18 season will be a special year for Daniel Ceballos Fernández.
Ceballos to Madrid – Update
It’s now just been announced that Dani Ceballos has officially signed for Real Madrid on a six year contract after rejecting a new contract offer from Betis last week. The deal is worth around 18m euros, just above the figure in his release clause. Apparently, his new release clause at Madrid has been increased slightly and now stands at an eye-watering 200m euros.