World Cup 2018 One to Watch: Yerry Mina – Colombia
The Colombian centre-half has failed to live up to his billing in Barcelona but will he be more comfortable playing for his national team?
At Barcelona, the arrival of a different South American superstar, Philippe Coutinho, got all the headlines in January. But for the afficionados of Brazilian football, Yerry Mina was something to be excited about.
The 6 foot 5 centre-half is deceptively comfortable on the ball and has caught the eye due to his Sergio Ramos-like ability to rise above at corners and set pieces and put the ball in the back of the net.
He’s a leader at the back, too. Using his giant frame to his advantage, he’s predictably commanding in the air but also quick.
Emerging at Deportivo Pasto, he moved to Bogata to play for one of Colombia’s biggest clubs, Santa Fe. Still a teenager, he established himself in the team and was a vital component of their league and Copa Sudamerica (continental Europa League equivalent) winning teams.
His progression has been a natural one. Such performances in Colombia earned him a move to Brazilian giants Palmeiras in 2016, where he further forged a reputation as one of the most promising and exciting young players in South American football.
Scoring on his debut, he added the Brazilian title to his list of honours in his debut season at the club and was named the best centre-half in Brazil.
Impossible to ignore, Colombia coach José Pékerman gave him his first international cap during 2016’s Copa America in the United States, and he has been a regular fixture in their backline ever since.
The past season
It’s been a season of two halves for Mina.
He was destined for Catalonia for some time, reportedly signing a pre-contract with Barcelona some time ago, and the transfer was due to take place after the World Cup this summer. But it was reportedly brought forward after Javier Mascherano departed the club in January.
In Brazil, he personally continued on the ascendancy, although he suffered with injuries as Palmeiras finished runners-up to their Sao Paulo rivals Corinthians, with the Brazilian season wrapping up in December.
But he’s struggled for minutes at Barcelona, playing just four full games. With Ernesto Valverde chasing an invincible record in the league, he was reluctant to rotate and give Mina opportunities, despite Gerard Pique hobbling with a recurring knee injury.
Mina is yet to convince at Barcelona, with the way they push up and take a different approach to defending something of a culture shock.
He’s been thrown in at the deep end, and might have benefitted from a less full-on change of pace – for example, the year at Ajax did his compatriot Davinson Sanchez the world of good in terms of adapting to the European game.
He had a nightmare against a Levante who scored five goals and ended Barcelona’s hopes of an unbeaten season in their penultimate game.
There is talk of Mina being loaned out to Liverpool next season in part due to the quota on non-Europeans. This might be best for all parties.
Mina has looked comfortable playing for his country ever since the Copa America Centenario, although that tournament was a baptism of fire: brought in for the final group game, a rotated Colombia conceded three goals to Costa Rica.
He didn’t feature during their knockout games, defeating Peru on penalties after a 0-0, and losing to Chile 2-0 in the semi-final.
But he’s played an important role in qualifying for the World Cup ever since. Like everyone except Brazil, Colombia were unconvincing in qualifying, leaving it until the final match to secure their place in Russia.
Injured for their final four qualifiers, Colombia stumbled over the line, losing two and drawing two in his absence.
In the five qualifiers he did play, they kept four clean sheets and were unbeaten, winning three and drawing two. In the game they did concede, he made amends by towering above Uruguay’s defenders to equalise late on.
He’s only got twelve caps but he’s already proven himself indispensable.
He should be much more comfortable, less likely to get beaten over five yards or commit rash challenges, for Colombia than the system Barcelona play.
When he said “I’m the one who sets the team’s rhythm”, it might have been in reference to his memorable dance celebrations but it rings true in terms of their organisation at the back. Colombia should not fear crosses with him in their backline.
He can contribute at the other end, too. With him going forward, they will be one of the most dangerous teams from set-pieces. In the kind of tight, cagey encounters that are all too commonplace at modern World Cups, that might just prove the difference.
He will also look to surge forward and play through-balls, almost as a deep-lying playmaker, and this extra creativity could be important as teams will look to target James Rodriguez and deny him the same influence he enjoyed at the last World Cup.
With a defence more likely to cover his forward runs and attacking instincts, this will be less risky than it has proved at his new club.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.