Koeman looking at ability, not age, as Barca youngsters shine

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Osasuna v FC Barcelona - El Sadar Stadium, Pamplona, Spain - March 6, 2021 Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman REUTERS/Vincent West

PAMPLONA, Spain (Reuters) - Coach Ronald Koeman hailed Barcelona's next generation of exciting talents after 18-year-old Ilaix Moriba became the latest teenager to make his mark by scoring his first goal for the club in a 2-0 win at Osasuna on Saturday.

Barca fielded seven players aged 23 or under but substitute Ilaix made the biggest impact, smashing into the net from outside the box to clinch victory after Jordi Alba had broken the deadlock.

As a player under great Dutch coach Johan Cruyff, Koeman was part of a Barca side fuelled by youngsters including Pep Guardiola and he is now overseeing a team crammed with youthful talent.

"The most important thing for me is that the players are competitive. For me age doesn't count, what counts is what I see on the pitch," Koeman told reporters after Barca moved to within two points of La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Koeman praised the impact of fellow Dutchman Frenkie de Jong and U.S. international Sergino Dest, big-money recruits from Ajax Amsterdam, as well as homegrown players such as Oscar Mingueza, Ilaix, Riqui Puig and forward Ansu Fati.

"In the Netherlands, it's much easier to field young players because the championship doesn't have as much quality as the Spanish league but there's also a lot of talent in Barcelona's academy," he said.

"These players deserve the opportunities they are getting. If we keep playing like this we can win things, and if we can do this while playing with youngsters, even better.

"Players like Pedri, Ilaix, Riqui, Mingueza and Ronald Araujo have proven they have a great future. And as a coach I've always given youngsters a chance as they're the future of a club."

Koeman singled out midfielder Ilaix for praise after his third league game.

"He scored a great goal. Every time he comes into the team he gives us something extra. He's great with the ball and is a strong young lad too. He's doing everything he needs to get more first team opportunities," he said.

Ilaix was also delighted with his goal.

"I won't forget this day as long as I live," he said.

(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)

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