Football

The ex-Barca & Man City player who’s in Kazakhstan at 26

In Depth

Gai Assulin was schooled at La Masia, played under Pep Guardiola for Barcelona‘s first team and later joined Manchester City, yet at 26 he’s just joined FC Kaisat in Kazakhstan.

Assulin moved to Catalonia from his native Israel as a 12-year-old, playing with the likes of Sergi Roberto and Thiago Alcantara at La Masia, and progressing to the B team, where he was a regular under Guardiola in his first managerial role.

The attacking midfielder eventually followed Guardiola in making the step up to the first team, playing in the Copa del Rey in 2009, and though his career has not turned out how he might have hoped, Assulin does at least have plenty of fond memories from his time at one of the biggest club’s in the world.

“To grow up in such a place with a lot of guys who play in the same way, I had a really good time there,” he says.

“I learned a lot in my life. It’s not all about football, it’s about education. And I am very glad to say I was in such a good place.

“I think it’s changed now there’s not so many players coming from the academy to the first team, but when I was there it was one of the best places to be.

“We had a group of guys playing football together, going to school together, and it was a great experience. I am still in touch with them and I am pleased for them for doing so well. It was important for me to learn things.”

And Assulin can hardly have asked for better players to learn from when he stepped up into the first-team squad at the Nou Camp.

“Training with Barcelona’s first team was the best experience I’ve had in my career,” he says. “I learned so much. I’m proud to say I was training with such big players.

“I’ve learned from Messi, Henry, Zlatan. They’re all different types of players, so it was great to see how they operate and pick up little things from them.”

Move to Man City

Assulin left Barcelona in 2010 in search of a clearer path to regular first-team football, and though he did not in fact make a single first-team appearance for Manchester City, he became friends with David Silva, another player most would dream to learn from.

“When I was at City I learned very much from David Silva,” Assulin says. “He’s such a good player and different from anything you will see. He’s just so intelligent on the pitch and a great guy too.

“I had a good relationship with almost everyone. I was talking more to the Spanish guys – Silva; Carlos Tevez was there at the time; Yaya Toure I know from Barcelona; Kolo Toure was a really nice guy.

“I had a great relationship with everyone, but especially those guys. Every time I went to train with the first team they helped me and they liked me.”

City’s reserve team at the time included an array of talent who were not given a chance by Roberto Mancini but have gone on to excel across Europe.

“For me, the best players in the reserves were Omar Elabdellaoui, John Guidetti, Denis Suarez and Joan,” Assulin says. “They have all gone on to have good to careers away from City, so it shows the level of quality we had there at the time.

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READ: John Guidetti: Not the hero Europe deserves, but the one it needs

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“It was an exciting, attacking team and great to be a part of.”

Assulin spent time out on loan at Brighton while at City, but he failed to agree terms for a permanent deal at the Amex and went on to play for Racing Sandander, Granada, Real Mallorca and then Hapoel Tel-Aviv back home in Israel.

He returned to Barcelona to join third-tier side Sabadell in August 2016, but last month his contract was cancelled by mutual consent after an 18-month spell hampered by injury.

Fully fit again after surgery, he had offers from several clubs and had hoped to remain in the UK, where he lives with his partner and daughter, but instead he has joined FC Kaisat on a two-year contract.

It may not be the club he thought he’d end up at when he broke through at Barcelona, but his one game for the Calatans is still one more than most of us.

By Will Unwin


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