After a hugely impressive start to the season, Jon Toral has found himself on the fringes of the Birmingham City team.
Joining Arsenal from Barcelona at the age of 16, Toral has struggled with a couple of serious injuries while friend Héctor Bellerín has gone on to establish himself in the fist team.
A second spell on loan in the Championship started well for Toral this season, but he soon found himself on the bench, and sometimes not even featuring in games. However, he has returned to start four of Birmingham’s last six games and impressed his manager in the process.
“He has come back a better player, and you have to remember this is a player that didn’t start that many games last season,” said Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett.
“We looked at how many goals he scored without starting that many games and we felt with a full season under his belt, a little bit more maturity and experience of the Championship, he was the type of player that perhaps we could pinch within our structure and have a real affect. I think he has.
“You could argue with Jon, and I know it’s a very flippant and easy thing to say, that he should be in double figures at the moment with his goals because he has had lots and lots of opportunities.”
Toral has managed four goals – one every 228.5 minutes on the pitch. That’s an impressive rate for any midfielder and, at the age of 20, there’s no doubt he’s influencing things when he’s on the pitch.
The midfielder has a real eye for goal and times runs well into the box, making him a constant threat.
“What he does do, when he comes on the pitch, he gives you that little bit of impact and quality,” Rowett added. “And when he starts, since he has come out and then back into the team, I think he has had that little bit of extra zip about his play.
“You look at him and almost think he’s a little bit older than that and a little bit more mature the way he plays and the calmness and composure he shows.
“He has certainly been an excellent player for us so far this season and I expect him to kick on even more from now on in.”
With his contract up at the end of the season, Toral is playing for his future – whether or not that is at Arsenal.