transfers | 2018-12-11
Rabiot, Frenkie De Jong, Pogba and Barcelona's Midfield Choices
The club's set for a big signing for its midfield in 2019
If you questioned a Barcelona fan six months ago who the club wants to sign, few would have suggested what came to pass during summer. Let's understand how the club has act in the marketing since the summer window begun.
In urgent need of reinforcements to regain its balance after Iniesta's departure, it would take something more to restore the midfield, but that wasn't the focus. Griezmann was the chosen one, things fell through in yet another embarrassment, but one that proved to be a blessing in disguise.
The doubts about investing big in an attacking signing turned to the midfield, and Arthur was signed after Pjanic made it clear he was staying put at Juventus. Rarely we have seen a player become a fan favorite after a few months, a symptom of Xavi's absence since 2015, and now the Brazilian is set to be part of Barça's spine for the next ten years.
Arturo Vidal was signed out of nowhere when it became clear Rabiot wasn't moving this summer, the Chilean is a great footballer, he's delivering solid showings but not what's ideally needed to bring Barça back to its golden years in the middle of the park. Attention finally turned to the chosen one: Frenkie De Jong, and unfortunately Ajax quickly blocked the move, knowing they would be able to ask way beyond the initial €50m asking price in 2019.
The Barça board rarely uses logic when it comes to signings, seeking marketing projects in form of footballers to excite fans rather than what's really needed. That's not unlike what Florentino Pérez used to do during the Galactico Era, and no wonder the only three months of happiness their fans had at the time was limited to the summer transfer window, enduring the worst trophy drought in Real Madrid's modern history.
Then came the Pogba links. The Frenchman was butting heads with José Mourinho after a great World Cup campaign, and Mino Raiola used this opportunity to offer his client to Bartomeu, who took it as a possible marquee signing in the final weeks of the window. Rumours intensified with bogus offers of Yerry Mina and André Gomes plus cash, which could be interpreted more as a threat than an offer, and Manchester United didn't relent. Barça might come back later, reports in England suggested the club will use a tactic similar to Coutinho to lure the player next year. According to various soccer betting sites, the club are favorites to sign him.
Pogba's signing doesn't make sense anymore. Initially, in 2015 he was an election bargain used by Laporta, Benedito and Bartomeu, all three claimed in some way that they could bring the former Juventus player. He was seen as one of the best midfield talents of his generation and all of Europe's top clubs were eyeing him if Mino Raiola's inventiveness is to be believed. Right now, he's a disruptive player that hasn't fulfilled his potential, causing trouble at Manchester United and hardly showing why he's anywhere the €100m plus astronomical agent fees that were paid in 2016. Pogba has an anarchic playing style and doesn't fit at Barcelona's midfield, his ball retention skills are lacking and he's too slow when moving the ball forward in possession. His signing would be a marketing statement rather than a necessity.
As things stand, Barcelona want to sign Rabiot on a free transfer in January, the player would join next June. The Frenchman is a great central midfielder and he can also play as a defensive midfielder, would enable Busquets to rest and offer competition to Rakitc by partnering Arthur, he's prone to fouling, but hardly an irredeemable flaw. The problem is his behavior off pitch, Rabiot has proven to have a difficult character and be disruptive, clashing with his coaches at PSG, showing up late for training, and mother Veronique acts as his agent is known as a tough negotiator. The rumoured €10m a year salary combined with a big signing bonus would strain Barça's wage bill even further.
Rabiot had been unanimously favored by the board, but his ever increasing demands and the uncertainty surrounding his future have sowed doubts if he's the right option for the midfield. Meanwhile, the favorite Frenkie De Jong has been rumored to be signing with PSG for €75m by the Dutch outlet De Telegraaf, known to be reliable. Barça's version is that they have considered the wage demands and the transfer fee to be simply impossible to match given the club's finances, with the highest wage bill in world football and the risks in making yet another big gamble with another U20 player after Dembélé. As things stand, the club has no power to match the offers by the Parisian club nor Manchester City.
Among other midfielders have been linked with Barcelona and extensively scouted, notably Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon, and Rodrigo Bentancur, who Juventus managed to sign ahead of Barcelona from Boca Juniors a year ago. As things stand, the club hasn't move for any of them, but they're considered possible alternatives to De Jong and Rabiot.
Much has been said of signing new midfielders, but Barcelona would be wise to look at La Masia, especially at Carles Aleñá that promoted to the first team after Rafinha's injury, scoring a goal at the Camp Nou this month; and Riqui Puig who quickly became a sensation featuring for Juvenil A and now Barcelona B this season, playing some minutes in the senior team. Both players have a ceiling as high as the high profile signings mentioned above.
What we can hope for Barça in 2019: Replacing Ernesto Valverde with a more proactive Cruyffian coach like Quique Setién, so that the club can make a return to the sophisticated tactics that prioritize the midfield, and start looking at La Masia players as possible first team players instead of resources to be sold; and signing Matthijs De Ligt as Piqué successor, it'll prove a difficult acquisition given the competition, but rarely we have seen a centre back more suited to Barcelona than the young Dutchman. A guarantee of quality on and off the ball, he'd be a perfect partner for Umtiti for years to come.
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WRITTEN BY: Rafael Hernández
A die hard Barcelona fan since the Joan Gaspart years, Rafael has seen the best and worst of his club. One of the Grup 14 founders, currently overlooking and coordinating the group's strategy. Rafael’s also a football journalist and entrepreneur.