In the previous article I discussed who of the 2016/2017 squad I would sell. I’ll now continue with the loanees, possible buy-backs and promotions. In brackets the age, whoscored.com rating and transfer value according to transfermarkt.com
YAY, WE’VE MADE IT PAST FIRST BASE
Carles Aleña (19y, 6.13, promotion)
In the little minutes that he has played, I have not seen the the spark some other talents show. However, we need to give more opportunities to our youth players and by all accounts he is up. Bring it on.
Marlon (21y, 6.72 / 6M option)
Barça would be crazy not to exercise the option to complete this signing. He looked so good last preseason that I was disappointed we didn’t see more of him during 2016/17. When he finally started a must-win game, I loved the contrast between the nerves on his face and the poise in his legs. I’m not 100% convinced of his defensive skills, but I’ll be happy if he is part of the squad as long as he gets significant minutes. If not, it might be better for him to be loaned out and face Liga strikers every week.
COULD WE JUST ACT AS IF IT NEVER HAPPENED?
Munir El-Haddadi (21y, 6.69 / loan)
I remember his first match for us. A black cat walked on the pitch that day, but that didn’t stop Munir from hitting the bar in the first half and scoring a breakaway goal in the second half. It’s fair to say (but not fair to him) that Munir never lived up to the promise of that game.
He was Valencia’s top scorer this season, which sounds very impressive until I started counting and stopped at eight. Is he better than Paco Alcacer? I don’t know. It’s impossible to judge because Paco’s adaptation period was so long and dire and he plays alright now. I still think Munir got wronged, but that’s in the past.
Looking at this with cold blue eyes, however, I say we get Munir back for free and sell Paco for a fee.
THIS IS REALLY DIFFICULT FOR ME
Sergi Samper (22y, 6.26 / loan)
Right at this moment, nobody knows how good Sergi Samper is. We all saw him play a full game of Champions League football against Apoel Nicosia and he looked like he had played in Barça A for years. Whatever LE saw in training that refrained him from integrating him in the first team, those 90 minutes against Apoel did not lie.
A lot of people criticize the loan to Granada now, but it made sense then. All agreed Paco Jemez was the perfect manager to give Sergi game time and develop him further. Six rounds into the season, Paco Jemez got fired. You know what they say, right? Everybody’s got a plan til somebody takes a shotgun to your kneecap.
So how good is Samper? The only way to find out is to play him, and nurture him, and teach him. Sergio Busquets would’ve been a third division player if it weren’t for Pep. Alas, Ernesto Valverde is not Josep Guardiola. Nobody is. At this point we have to choose between Gomes and Samper. One of those got significant playing time in Barça A last year. The other did quite poorly at one of the worst sides of the league.
It breaks me hard, kid, but I’m sorry.
JUST IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING, I BLOCKED YOUR NUMBER
Deulo (23y, 6.99 / 12M buy-back option)
There was this boy who was really talented and whoe decided to work harder than anybody else. His name is Cristiano Ronaldo and he became one of the best football players in the world….
Deulofeu is a less talented version of that boy. He’s got a similar attitude but without the work ethic. Folks want him back because at Milan he played a decent couple of months and he is from our academy. He is also the only player the Masía has ever produced that does not want to pass the ball.
Douglas (26y, 6.92, 1M)
Yo, when we cheered your name in the Camp Nou whenever you came on and did something worth mentioning, you know we were just fucking with you, right?
Thomas Vermaelen (whocares.com / 0M -/- medical bills)
Out of sight for two years as part of the squad and out of mind the moment we loaned him out. Has he played at all this season? It was not Vermaelen’s fault, but paying 10M for a player who lives in a wheelchair was a truly moronic move. And to think I’d take Zubizarreta back as our technical director in a heartbeat… Oh, boy.
Before discussing incoming transfers, let’s agree upon what we do not know.
We do not know exactly how much the club can spend, although the answer is probably: a lot. There’s a new sponsor coming in and the combined sales of Arda Turan, Ivan Rakitic, Denis Suarez and Paco Alcacer should add another 60-90M to our war chest.
We do not know which player actually wants to come. Robert Fernandez could very well want to sign the second coming of Christ, but if J.C. prefers to play for Shanghai Greenland Shenhua FC and make more money than God, there is little we can do about it.
I will therefore discuss not only who I want to come, but also name some other options and even discuss some players I do not want to come. I’ll start with what we need most:
PRIMARY NEED: World class creative midfielder.
Rakitic was able to replace Xavi not because Rakitic was as good as Xavi but because Ivan’s role meant that other players could shine. Now that it’s time to phase out Iniesta, we absolutely need an elite player to compensate for the loss of quality this represents.
I START TO CRY EVERY TIME WE MEET
Thiago Alcántara (26y, 8.05, 40M)
DOES NO MEAN YES?
Marco Verratti (24y, 7.46, 40M)
When Iniesta told him he would be his successor during our most humiliating loss this side of Athens, culés hearts skipped with joy at the thought of Verratti making the jump from Paris to Barcelona. Such hope is more likely than not in vain, as not only does the young midfielder professes his loyalty to Paris Saint Germain at every turn, his paymaster is loathe to let his best player go.
Does that mean we shouldn’t try? Heck, send out some feelers and if he wants to come, go all out. Last thing you want is to not ask the guy in the one summer he chooses to leave and to then see him in a Juventus shirt next season – or worse, in a similar one without black stripes.
PS – Oh, and if the answer is “no,” fire Ariedo Braida. What has that guy ever done for us anyway?
YOU’RE GORGEOUS, BUT I DON’T NEED THE DRAMA
Philippe Coutinho (24y, 7.56, 40M)
On a good day, Phillipe would walk into the gala 11 of any team of the world. For a transfer fee northwards of 80 million euros, he would undoubtedly be expected to walk into ours, and again, on a good day, even when playing in a position he rarely plays at Liverpool, this would be lovely.
It’s the bad days that should worry us. Also, note that Iniesta plays an important defensive role as well, which is another concern when you move Coutinho from his habitual left wing to the middle of the pitch.
I SEE YOU DANCIN’ IN THE CLUB
Jean-Michael Seri (25y, 7.14, 12M)
He’s very recently held up as somebody who would be natural successor of Xaviniesta, but let’s be honest, players with the quality and potential to one day take over from two of the best ever midfielders to ever grace a soccer pitch are widely known and admired years before their 25th birthday. These players do not just come to light at the nearing of a transfer window.
Christian Eriksen (25 yrs, 7.45, 35M)
Strong on the ball, a good passer and a long shot threat, Eriksen was on Barça’s radar when he was still back at Ajax. One of the important players of a very strong Tottenham Hotspurs side these last couple of seasons, he is under contract until 2020. You know that means he’s cost a gazillion euros. I agree Eriksen is good, but even if he were good enough to run our midfield, which is not a given, he is not a gazillion euros type good.
Roque Mesa (27 yrs, 6.60, 9M)
Another hipster choice. I can see why people like him, I like him too, but guys, there’s a difference between doing it at Las Palmas and doing it at F.C. Barcelona.
A quick recap: Verratti is not coming and Thiago even less. Coutinho has elite potential but so does James Rodriguez and, unlike Florentino Perez, if Barça spend >80M we cannot miss. Seri is still a relative lightweight. It seems that it is really, really, really difficult to find a replacement for Andrés Iniesta. You’ll be relieved then to find he already plays for us.
LET’S RENEW OUR VOWS
Lionel Messi (30y, 8.47, salary bump)
For years culés have been talking about Messi evolving from a pure attacker to a midfielder. Now that the need is there, the time has come. Give him a traditional number 10 slot and he will no longer keep that nominal right forward position hostage.
He’s the best passer in the world.
He’s the best dribbler in the world.
He’s the best scorer in the world.
It would not be a drastic change from where he already plays.
There. Solved. It does create two other prominent needs, as we now need to replace Messi at right forward and make sure that his partners in midfield are compatible.
PRIMARY NEED: world class right forward
This one is easy. I was disappointed when we did not get him last year while he was cheap, but the choice he made spoke volumes about his character. Take note that the number 1 target is miles preferable over options 2, 3 and 4. This is a get-him-at-all-costs player.
SAY YES I DO
Ousmane Dembele (20y, 7.50, 28M)
The young Frenchman is one of the most exciting players in world football right now. He turned Barça down last summer because he wanted to develop. And so he did. With Neymar on the left, Ousmane on the right, Suarez on point and Messi coming through the middle, teams will have to park an Airbus to have a prayer at stopping us.
Dembelé will easily cost double of his market value and if Borussia is smart, triple, but he’s worth it. All we need is for Robert to pop the question, Ousmane to say yes and we’ll live happily ever after.
YOU’RE MY BACKUP DATES (OOPS DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD)
Luca Moura (24 yrs, 7.44, 37M)
Quietly one of the best wingers in Ligue 1, it is easy to forget Moura is still only 24 years old. He might not always shine in the city of lights, but on the right of Neymar, Messi and Suarez?
Riyad Mahrez (26 yrs, 7.01, 30M)
Technically gifted, Riyad looked like a world beater when he helped Leicester to the title. Now his star has fallen along with his club’s descent. Seems to really like Barça, so depending on his perhaps not so outrageous salary demands and the who knows how high or low transfer fee, this might be a decent option.
Felipe Anderson (24 yrs, 7.62, 24M)
Perhaps not the most skilled winger, what Felipe lacks in scoring and artistry, he makes up for in overall contribution and heart. Should Barça break the bank for him? No. Could he accomodate Messi’s shift to the midfield? Worthy of consideration.
SECONDARY NEED: Central midfielder
Hey, if we’re selling Rakitic… We now need to be a midfielder who is quick and technical enough to combine with Messi and Busquets when in possession, but at the same time can compensate for Messi’s lesser focus on defensive duties either through skill set or sheer force and dynamism. Either of the following choices would please me. If you can’t get either, it might be worth it to hang on to Rakitic.
MY MOM WOULD LOVE TO MEET YOU
Ander Herrera (27y, 7.33, 28M)
I think we can all agree he would not be the sexiest signing in the world, but Herrera would be a smart addition to our midfield. His standout qualities are his defensive contribution and his passing. I can’t think of any other player who together with Busquets could provide Messi with as much freedom.
An added bonus is that of all midfield signings, Herrera would probably adapt fastest.
I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND
Naby Keita (22y, 7.60, 22M)
Possibly the greatest midfield prospect in world football right now, and for some reason nobody is talking about him. Naby can do it all.
Dribble past three guys + goalkeeper? Check.
Split the defense with a through ball? Check.
Make key defensive plays? Check.
Make fans dust off their old Keita shirts to wear to the Camp Nou? Check.
Keita was arguably the most important player of widely despised Red Bull Leipzig’s virgin run at the title. Comparing his individual stats to those of world beaters such as Thiago and Verratti at a similar stage of their careers, Naby definitely does not come off shabby (squawka). The drawback is he’s raw, very raw and as such, he would probably need time to adapt. The attraction is that of all the midfielders that can be got, his ceiling is the highest.
SECONDARY NEED: Central Defender
This is a difficult choice. You don’t know it by the way he is playing, but Piqué will become old sooner than we think. Robert struck gold with Umtiti, but he will need a partner. Their only reliable backup right now is Javier Mascherano and it’s easy to see how this could be his last year at the club. Of course we have Marlon, who is still, yes, after two full games, an unknown quantity. I will not bet my house on Marlon. This means we conceivably need a player to back up now, even though he might not get a lot of minutes and we would like that player to have the potential to become a starter in a couple of years.
ARE YOU READY?
Davinson Sánchez (20 yrs, 7.31, 7.5M)
Although he’s only a pup, Ajax’ Davison Sánchez is coveted by pretty much every team in Europe. This means he will cost 25M at the very least. He made a couple of mistakes during the lost Europa League final against Man U, but his speed and defensive prowess remedied these situations before an attacker could take advantage.
Could he be a future rock in our defense? Before he can even think about replacing Piqué, he would have to battle it out with Mascherano and Marlon for backup minutes next season. Limited playtime might not be what he has in mind right now.
ARE WE COMPATIBLE?
Cesar Azpilicueta (27 yrs, 7.19, 25M)
With Cesar Barça would get a RB, LB and CB all in the same player. The question becomes whether he is skilled enough on the ball to be a starting right back for us and if not, why would he leave Chelsea to play second fiddle behind our starting CBs?
If Valverde decides 3-4-3 is the way forward, however, Azpilicueta would instantly become the perfect defensive signing. He is an excellent defender, of the energetic Puyol / Mascherano mold which so naturally complements the more laidback Piqué and Umtiti.
SURE, WE CAN HANG
Yerry Mina (22y, n/a, 750k)
Another Colombian, Yerry could be Davinson’s older brother. Taller, more muscular, and… well, that’s it. An intimidating aerial presence who is, for his size, decent with the ball at his feet, Mina is yet to make the jump to Europe. He already starts for his national selection who are currently in second place in the South American World Cup qualifiers which, again, is impressive. Puzzlingly, Barça has an 8M preferential deal for a player whose supposed market value is 750k.
If minutes at CB are limited, this relatively cheap young prospect is worth serious consideration.
YEAH, NO, I JUST GOT OUT OF A LONG TERM RELATIONSHIP
Mauricio Lemos (22y, n/a, 750k)
A talented defender and a lot of culés talk about him, which is to be expected from anyone who can pass the ball. However his profile is too similar to that of Piqué and Umtiti and as such, he won’t compensate for their (relative) weaknesses.
Thank you, but no thank you.
SECONDARY NEED: World class right back
The only position where we don’t have a player widely considered as one of the best in his position / role. So why is this not a primary need?
- No clear option on the market.
- A good option will still take a fair chunk of over transfer budget.
- Sergi Roberto can still become a very good full back for us.
However, if we get an elite midfielder (meaning Verratti) or Coutinho, it might not make sense to move Messi to midfield. In that case, since Messi tends to drift towards the middle from his right forward position which leave his flank undermanned, we should to examine if there is a dominant right back available.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Héctor Bellerín (22 yrs, 6.82, 25M)
It appears nobody wants Bellerín at Barça, just as it seems inevitable Barça will get Bellerín this summer. He’s been accused of being a speed merchant, a headless chicken and even a right-sided Jordi Alba. I don’t get how comparing him to one of the best left backs in Europe is an insult. If a right-sided Jordi Alba joins our club while still getting better at the age of 22, I’m all for it. Rather now than after an additional season or two of Arsène Wenger’s loser mentality imprinted into his soul. Except that…
- Arsenal will charge us anywhere between 35-70M
- RB is not a current priority.
Bellerín the player is not as terrible as people make him out to be. However, unless we have money for a Manchester City type overhaul, Bellerín the signing makes little sense this summer.
Djibril Sidibé (24 yrs, 7.18, 14M)
The hipsters’ choice over Bellerín. Monaco won’t hold a fire sale this summer, but if it’s a right back we need and we have money to burn, we could do worse.
Nelson Semedo (23 yrs, 7.31, 14M)
Like most talented right backs, Nelsinho knows how to dribble and how to pass and how to tackle. He might be less expensive than Bellerín, but Benfica does not sell cheap. Again, do we need a right back?
Enough with the talk. My squad for 2017/18. This takes into account what I think is doable (players want to come for prices we are willing to pay). With unlimited funds, I would very much like to add Azpilicueta for a main lineup of 3-4-3 and I’d be willing to give up Mascherano to make space.
*In brackets their age by the end of 2017/18 season