Cristhian Mosquera: From Futsal to Valencia’s Defensive Rock

Believe it or not, one of the best young center back prospects in the world almost chose basketball over football. 


The story of Cristhian Mosquera starts in Alicante, Spain, a coastal city in the south of the Valencian Community. He was born to Colombian parents, and at a young age, picked up the sport of basketball. While football still dominates Spain, Mosquera grew up during the NBA’s global rise and when Pau Gasol was winning championships with Kobe Bryant. Given Cristhian’s height, it should not be a shock that he would choose the hardwood over the pitch. 


His “footballing” career began on the futsal pitch, when he joined a local youth team for the sole reason that his cousin played for the team and they were short one player for the tournament. Something must have clicked for Cristhian, as he later moved to full-field, 11-a-side football.



Mosquera’s abilities showed from a young age, and eventually he made his move to the Valencia CF youth team. There, he moved up the ranks quickly, making his full first team debut in a January 2022 Copa del Rey victory over CD Atlético Baleares. At 17 years, 6 months, and 23 days, he became the eighth youngest debutant for Los Murciélagos in their club’s history, as well as the youngest ever center back.


Since then, he has become a cornerstone for Los Ches, logging an incredible 3,075 minutes for the club this season in La Liga. In fact, at just 19, he played the 9th most minutes of any outfield player in Spain’s first division this season. This figure represents the most minutes played of any La Liga teenager since Thibaut Courtois played 3,261 for Atlético Madrid in 2011/2012.


You would have to go back to Cesar Azpilicueta’s ‘08/09 campaign for Osasuna to find an outfield player with more minutes in a single season before turning the age of 20. To marshal the defense of a club the size of Valencia at just 19 is quite the feat, but to do it after picking up football later than most is especially impressive. But, what exactly about Mosquera’s game makes him so special?


Player Profile



Immediately, two attributes stand out for Cristhian: defensive action volume and duel success rate. The defensive actions component is exciting but can be influenced heavily by possession, and with Valencia seeing the 3rd least amount of the ball in La Liga this season, it explains a good bit of his success. 


However, ranking in the 95th percentile of defensive duel success rate is downright fantastic. This is probably the most defensive “skill” based metric that is widely available, and Mosquera absolutely crushes it. I feel I am not doing this achievement justice. Imagine being better than 95% of your peers in one of the most critical aspects of your profession or field of study, and you are doing it in your first professional year. Incredible stuff.



I already know what you are thinking… the defensive metrics are impressive, but he is lacking in all other phases of the game. I hear you – this is one of those instances where watching the games, he does not look poor in terms of passing, ball carrying, or aerial abilities, but the stats say he is either below or way below average in those categories. Remember, he is still a teenager and this is his first season in La Liga. 


Instead of comparing him to all La Liga center backs for those statistics, let’s compare him to his “peers”. For the purposes of this study, I have defined his “peers” as all La Liga center backs to register 1,350+ minutes in a single La Liga season in the past 5 campaigns, beginning the season at 21 years or younger.


I have used only their first eligible season, so for players like Jules Koundé, who have multiple eligible data points, I have used only their first. This gives us a group of 15 center halves to compare Cristhian Mosquera in his areas of “weakness”, to assess if they really are weaknesses, or if they are actually acceptable metrics considering age.


Progressive and Forward Passing



Using two advanced statistics (progressive passing distance per pass attempt and long pass accuracy), we see that while Cristhian does not excel, he is certainly in the acceptable range for his age grouping.


The two biggest outliers in terms of long pass accuracy are Eric García and Pau Cubarsí, who have spent extensive time in the most technically advanced youth academy in the world, La Masia. Given Mosquera’s placement on the plot, I feel comfortable in assessing his passing as “acceptable but not excellent.”


Forward Carrying



Using a similar metric to the previous assessment (progressive carry distance per live ball touch), Cristhian Mosquera ranks 11th in the sample group. I use this seemingly complicated metric as a way to isolate progressive carry ability from regular carrying, and account for players that see more of the ball as a result of their teams operating with a higher possession percentage. Again, Mosquera rates closer to the median than he does the outer bounds of the sample group, but still not the most impressive figure. 


Interestingly enough, his dribble take-on success rate is 86%, which is an exceptional mark for a center back (78th percentile). This shows he is more selective when he dribbles the ball out with his feet, choosing to take players on and carry the ball when it is most opportune. These are skills he likely honed when he first made the transition to association football, as he started out on the wing and played both full back positions. I would anticipate as his comfort on the pitch grows, so will his willingness to carry the ball forward.


Aerial Ability



Aerial duels are probably the one area that is genuinely worrisome in his profile, even considering his age. Most players improve their aerial abilities as they age, which makes biological sense. The human body changes a ton in its teenage years, and continues to mature into the late 20s. Even without considering age, Mosquera’s aerial profile still presents a bleak picture. He has the second lowest aerial duel success rate of any of the 15 in the sample population. 


This is particularly perplexing for three reasons. First, in watching him, he does not look out of place in the air. He leaps well, and at 6’2” (1.88m), I did not notice him losing many aerial duels in the Valencia games I watched this season. Second, of his nine shots this season, six were headers, four of which were from corners. These are not the most impressive numbers, but they grade somewhere near the median for center backs. 


Finally, his background before playing football was basketball. Typically, the skills of rebounding and defensive shot blocking translate well to the vertical elements of other sports. I do not have quantitative evidence (or anecdotal, for that matter) for football to back up my point, but in the US, the basketball to American football transition is extremely common.


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Some of the best “jump-ball” wide receivers and tight ends in NFL history played basketball in college before choosing football professionally. In fact, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham are first and fourth respectively in career touchdowns for tight ends, and they both played college hoops. Given this apparent skill translation from another sport, I would not be surprised if Mosquera makes huge strides in aerial duel success next season.




Cristhian Mosquera is already one of the best 1v1 defenders in La Liga, and at just 19, he has certainly earned his place in Valencia’s defense for years to come. He will need to continue to make strides in his passing, carrying, and aerial duels, but there is reason to believe all three areas will improve as his play evolves. 


Even with national team eligibility for both Colombia and Spain, he has not made a senior appearance for either side. This is particularly disappointing, as I believe he would have deserved consideration for both sides in their respective Copa America and Euro campaigns this summer. However, I do not want to get ahead of myself… he is still a teenager coming off of his debut La Liga season, and he started football later than most. He has plenty of time to grow into the world-class center half I believe he will be.


By: Spencer Mossman / @fc_mossman

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Quality Sport Images / Getty