After yet another highly successful season, FC Barcelona enters the transfer season with a gamut of speculations surrounding them. Ranging from Jose Ángel to the clichéd Cesc Fabregas, promising players from around Europe continue to be linked to the European Champions.

The 2010-11 season saw the arrival of David Villa (€40Milion from Valencia), Javier Mascherano (€19Million from Liverpool), Adriano (€9.5M from Sevilla) and Ibrahim Afellay (€3M from PSV Eindhoven) and Barcelona went on to capture their forth European Cup along with their third La Liga title in as many years.

Fans expect new signings…

While David Villa has been a regular starter, Mascherano and Adriano continued to be utility players filling up for various players at various positions. Seydou Keita showed immense maturity and patience at being a second fiddle to Sergio Busquets; however, the African’s perseverance paid off and he ended up with the most number of appearences under his belt.

The duopoly of Spain continued and Real Madrid managed to waive off Barca’s hegemony by bagging their first Copa del Rey in almost two decades (eighteen years to be precise). Such is the quality of these two teams that it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the five matches between these two rivals shaped the season in Spain.

At the end of the season Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have their share of silverware which they deserved and the powerhouses will definitely up the ante and go toe-to-toe in the transfer market. TheHardTackle analyses FC Barcelona’s 2011 Summer transfer.

What do Barcelona need?

Defenders – yes! Carles Puyol isn’t getting any younger and Eric Abidal too underwent a traumatic incident. Despite the emergence of Fontas and Bartra from La Masia, the need of the hour is someone with vital first-team football experience at the highest level.

Adriano and Maxwell have done their part admirably; however, they too had their share of injuries and Barca’s thin squad was stretched to the limit. On a number of occasions, the Catalans emerged on the happier side just by the skin of their teeth. Albeit Mascherano and, at times, Busquets covered for the talismanic Puyol and the imposing Abidal; however, Camp Nou faithful definitely feel the need for personnel to fill in for the stalwarts. Fontas and Bartra, despite being exceptionally talented still lack the crucial match experience needed at the highest level. It’d be unfathomable to expect someone like Fontas to take on a player like Cristiano Ronaldo in a potential title decider.

Moreover, the departure of Martin Caceres, who failed to impress at the Camp Nou, to Sevilla has further proliferated the need for a defender. Possible candidates in Jose Ángel, Alberto Botia and surprisingly, Newcastle’s Jose Enrique and AC Milan’s Thiago Silva are doing the rounds.

Jose Ángel (Sporting Gijon/Spain)

Of all the players, who’ve been associated with Barca, Jose Ángel is perhaps the most unknown. The Sporting Gijon defender has been linked with Barca and many see him as the natural successor to the indomitable Eric Abidal, on the left side of the defense. Nouveau riche Malaga is after the talented youngster, as well; however, Gijon and the player himself have made their inclination towards Barca known. ‘Cote’ – as Jose Ángel is fondly known – has all the attributes to make it into the Barca first team. With age on his side, the fullback can act as a second fiddle to the current lot, honing his attacking prowess and strengthening physically, in the process.

However, recent reports have it the two clubs haven’t been able to come to an agreement over Cote, but Sporting president, Vega-Arango, said that there were plans for future meetings between the two clubs.

TheHardTackle’s VerdictChances are slim, but he would make a valuable squad player.

Alberto Botia (Sporting Gijon/Spain)

A Barca youth product, Botia has it in him to make it big. The youngster has good reading ability, which is imperative as a centre-back and he is just in his early twenties. Blessed with a good physique, Botia is as dominant as it gets and has been a regular starter for Gijon. Although the Asturian club made the loan deal permanent, Barca has a buy-back clause, which if exercised could see Botia switching to Camp Nou for a sum of €2 Million plus incentives.

Botia is a first choice at Gijon, but at Barca he will definitely not have his place guaranteed in the first team. Carles Puyol was plagued with injuries and Eric Abidal underwent a traumatic episode. However, both are back from their respective ailments but are also on the wrong side of thirty. If Botia makes a move, he has to be patient enough to carve a niche for himself in the first eleven.

TheHardTackle’s VerdictChances are slim but would be a fabulous signing, as he knows the Barca philosophy inside-out!

Jose Enrique (Newcastle United/Spain)

Perhaps the most surprising of all the rumours.  Having plied his trade for as many as four clubs in Spain, Enrique is no alien to La Liga. Surprisingly, the fullback started as a sprinter and had exceptional pace. However, a move to Levante, plummeted his sprinting aspirations. Enrique is known for his strong tackles and ability to retain possession – the latter of the abilities is highly appreciated at the Camp Nou. Accurate long passes added to his other qualities makes him a perfect replacement for Eric Abidal in years to come.

Jose Enrique

From St. James’ to Camp Nou?

Having won the official Newcastle United player of the season for 2009–10, Enrique is definitely a fan favourite at the St James’ Park. However, Newcastle would loathe to let go their prized asset easily. A bid of around €12 Million should convince the Magpies otherwise. If Enrique signs for Barca, this could perhaps be the best value-for-money deal for the European Champions!

TheHardTackle’s VerdictBleak. However, this deal has the potential to become the ‘Deal Of The Season.’ Great player. Reasonable price. Correct attitude. Perfect age. Cannot-Get-Better combination!

Thiago Silva (AC Milan/Brazil)

Undoubtedly one of the best centre backs in the world, Thiago Silva has brought back the aura of a resolute defense at the San Siro. The Milan central defender helped his club win back the Serie A title from their closest rivals and has caught the eye of the whole world. A certain sect of Rossoneri has even compared him to the legendary Franco Baresi.  Despite his dominance as a centre back, Silva is also an above average defensive midfielder and has what it takes to stop the opposition.

A great season at a great club!

Known for his exceptional positioning and tackling, Silva has attracted interest from major power-houses in Europe. Prized at more than €25 Million, Silva can bring the cash and a player too in the form of Maxwell to the Italian powerhouse. However, one cannot help and speculate whether Milan and Barca will exercise their negotiation over Zlatan as a part of the deal. No matter what the situation is, Silva would definitely bolster the Catalan defense and might just form one of the best defensive duos with Gerard Pique – all if the deal materializes.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict – Difficult to sign him. Milan would fight tooth and nail to keep him in Italy.

Despite the need for effective cover in defense, Barca has already sold Uruguayan defender Martin Caceres. The 24-year-old Uruguayan spent last season on loan with Sevilla, after spending the previous campaign loaned to Italian side Juventus. He made 23 league appearances for Sevilla, performing at right back and in central defense. As of now Sevilla has paid €3 Million for the services of Caceres; however, that might rise to €4.5 Million with incentives. Nonetheless, Andreu Fontàs Prat and Marc Bartra can see themselves promoted to the first team and will be in good position to earn valuable experience and also the chance to cement their place in years to come.

The luxury that can be afforded but shouldn’t necessarily be…

They say – ‘Offense is the best defense.’ FC Barcelona bears testimony to that. The form of football played by the Catalan club emphasizes more on ball retention, which in a way aids the defense in providing the opposition little or no opportunity to attack. Barcelona undoubtedly has one of the most potent attacks in the world and the addition of expensive players from outside would definitely stunt the growth and limit the opportunities of promising La Masia players. However, on the flipside, their arrival might also provide the impetus to the Bojans, Jeffrens, Robertos, Alcantaras to push the pedal to the metal.

The summer of 2011 has seen two fresh faces linked to Barca – Alexis Sanchez of Udinese and Giuseppe Rossi of Villarreal. Not to mention the perennial target – Cesc Fabregas. Rumours ranging from Cesc giving all his Arsenal team-mates a farewell gift to spending his holiday with Pique has been doing the rounds as usual and has become clichéd. However, the Sanchez and Rossi interests are like a breath of fresh air and undoubtedly these are players of high caliber and won’t be cheap.

Alexis Sanchez (Udinese/Chile)

The Udinese star has been a revelation this season. One can attribute Udinese’s inclusion in the top bracket in Seria A to this man. Along with Antonio Di Natale, the Chilean has managed to rip open many defenses and at just 22, he’s surely one of the superstars of tomorrow. Sanchez’s raw pace, silken skills, creativity and of course his penchant for step-overs is reminiscent of Ronaldo. After being shifted towards the centre, Sanchez’s incisiveness has increased. It is not a matter of surprise that many Europeans giants, including the European Champions – FC Barcelona are after his signature. Guardiola is said to be huge admirers of the starlet and it is for sure that the future is bright for this South American.

The Eastlands or the Camp Nou?

Statistics fail to do justice to the talent of this bright attacker. With 12 goals in 27 games and countless impactful performances, the Udinese forward is a hot property in Europe. Fernando Felicevich, agent of Sanchez, reportedly agreed to the €3 Million a year deal offered by Barca. However, Udinese president Franco Soldati has added that the club is yet to come to an agreement with Barcelona. A price tag of more than €30 Million might just be a little too much for the Catalans, but a player plus cash deal might just reduce the cash component. Bojan has reportedly been offered as part of the deal and €25 Million. However Soldati’s demand of €27 Million and Bojan is hindering the deal and the Catalans are still mulling over it. Amidst recent reports, Nouveau riche Man City might just have overtaken Barca in the race to land the Chilean starlet with their all-cash offer of above €30 Million.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict – Young, fast, skillful – Sanchez has what it takes to succeed at the Camp Nou. He would be a wonderful addition. However, this would mean Pedro losing out on imperative first team action.

Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal/Italy)

The America-born Italian striker has been in phenomenal form in Spain. Parma, Manchester United, Newcastle United and Villarreal – Rossi has played in three different leagues. However, the youngster failed to impress under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson and was then sold to Villarreal for around €10 Million in 2007. After a mild start to his Villarreal career, the Italian came of age in the 2010-11 season. With 32 goals in 56 appearances for the Yellow Submarines, Rossi is an extremely bright prospect. The diminutive Villarreal attacker would cost between £22 to £27 Million; however that can be brought down by adding a player as a part of the deal.

Rossi will fit perfectly into the Barca system. With a vicious left foot, Rossi can play anywhere in the final third. Fast movement and great reading further adds to the Italian international’s repertoire. Recently Javier Faus, Barcelona’s vice-president of finance made it clear that the Catalans have a €45 Million transfer kitty apart from the money that’s to be procured from the sales of other players. Reports emerged from Europe that Barca would be pushing both Sanchez and Rossi in an attempt to secure at least one of them.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict – A potential ‘Deal Of The Season’ material.

Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal/Spain)

Can there ever be a ‘FC Barcelona Transfer’ article without the mention of Cesc Fabregas?

A question of when, and not if.

There’s nothing new to this deal and it is just a matter of time for Cesc to don the sanctimonious jersey number 4 at the Camp Nou. We all know how good a player Cesc is or how well would he fit into the Barcelona pattern of football. It doesn’t make much sense to waste precious server space contemplating on this. However, the point of contention might just be the price that Barcelona will have to pay for Cesc. Cules can only hope and pray that Thiago Alcantara isn’t used to make-light the Cesc deal. That in a way would be taking a step backward as Alcantara has it in him to do the unthinkable in years to come!

TheHardTackle’s Verdict The deal is good for Barcelona only as long as Alcantara stays at Camp Nou.

Apart from the high profile signings, a lot happens behind closed doors. Promising players in Jeffren, Roberto, Muniesa, Bartra amongst others have garnered a lot of attention from different clubs. The depth and preference of quality over quantity in La Masia has been re-instated and in future too Barca B players will hog the limelight. Exodus of a host of stars in Hleb, Ibrahimovic amongst others is expected.

We, at TheHardTackle, will keep you updated, as always.