Would Alen Halilovic's development be best suited to a return to Barcelona?

What is best for a young football player's development? Is it better to sit on the bench at a club like Barcelona, making fleeting appearances when your side is already four goals up in the second half and starting the occasional home game against perceived cannon fodder, or to play regular football for a more modest club?

That was the question posed to Barcelona and Alen Halilovic at the start of the season. Barca B had been relegated from the second tier of Spanish football and the teenager, who has been tritely nicknamed the Croatian Messi, was deemed far too good to waste 12 months of a promising career playing in the depths of the regionalised third division.

So, as his teammates dropped down from the Segunda, he headed in the opposite direction, to the Primera. With the benefit of having one of Luis Enrique's friends and former Barcelona player Abelardo Fernandez in charge, Sporting Gijon was his destination. There, Halilovic linked up with one of the youngest teams in the Spanish top flight -- los guajes, the kids.

Now, as he approaches the second anniversary of his arrival in the Catalan capital this summer, the 19-year-old and Barcelona are about to be asked the same question again: what is best for a young football player's development?

Halilovic, speaking after playing against the Blaugrana for Sporting last weekend, knows what he hopes the answer is: "Now it's too soon to speak with Barca, because there are still three games left and my priority is to keep Sporting safe [from relegation], but I want to return to Barca."

Zoran Stojadinovic, the player's agent, is towing a similar line. "If you ask me for my opinion, I would prefer Halilovic to be Barca's 12th man than a starter at another club," he said when asked about what comes next last week. "We chose Barcelona because he wanted to be a Barca player and if he has the chance to stay, regardless how much money Manchester City and Manchester United come with, he will stay for much less."

However, things may not work out in the manner that the attacking midfielder and his agent are clearly lobbying for. Rafinha, Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto are three players who would presumably be ahead of Halilovic in the midfield pecking order if he does manage to find a place in the first-team squad next season. That's not including the habitual Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. Then there's the constant noise that Denis Suarez will be brought back from Villarreal, too.

Looking at that list, Halilovic would struggle to be Barcelona's 12th man -- he would also be an attacking option, too, but displacing Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez would be the tallest of orders -- although not for a lack of talent.

He has had more than his share of plaudits this season at El Molinon. From his stunning strike in the win over Espanyol to a match-winning performance against Malaga and a brace in the Copa del Rey against Real Betis, he's clearly a player who, if he keeps his feet on the ground, has a bright future.

However, he doesn't turn 20 until June, when he's likely to be with the Croatia squad at this summer's European Championship. Since the explosion of Pedro and Sergio Busquets under Pep Guardiola, Barca's willingness to take a punt on younger players has lessened. Sergi Samper has still not made the leap many had him pencilled in for years ago, while Marc Bartra and Sergi Roberto -- until this season at least -- have played bit parts.

Meanwhile, Denis Suarez, Gerard Deulofeu, Cristian Tello and Martin Montoya are among those to have left Camp Nou in search of more minutes, frustrated at their lack of duties. Bar, perhaps, the former, none have yet proved Barca were wrong to sideline them, mind.

Of course, it depends on each player. He may still be a teenager, but Halilovic is head-and-shoulders above the majority of his contemporaries. Is he Barca standard, though?

Having experienced a dip in form during the second half of the season, the suggestion is possibly not; that he still has some maturing to do. Prior to Sporting's last two matches, he had made six of his previous seven appearances from the bench. "If you don't train well, you don't play," Abelardo hinted at the time.

The answer to the question, therefore, seems to be leaning toward a move to another club -- one in the middle of Barca and Sporting. Valencia is the name that is not going away and one that would make sense in terms of bridging the gap between where he is now and where he wants to be, which is a regular fixture in the Barca first team.

And the suggestion from El Mundo Deportivo is that he could be sold, not loaned, to Mestalla. Of course, there is, as always, a caveat. Barca would not let a player of Halilovic's caliber leave without a buy-back clause. The Catalan daily refers to it as 'The Denis Suarez Formula'.

In selling Halilovic, Barca receive some money that would allow them to invest in improving other areas of the squad this summer, such as defence, while also shifting him from the wage bill. At a time when every penny counts, it would free up some space for the new contracts they've promised Neymar and Sergio Busquets, and they'd maintain the right to re-sign Halilovic for a fixed price in the future.

For the player, he could take the next step in a career that may still be destined for Camp Nou stardom. Barca B, Sporting, Valencia, Barca? It's not definitely the answer to the question, but it looks like the most sensible option on the table at the moment.