Barcelona‘s deficiency in central defence has been well documented. TheHardTackle takes a look at what is likely to (not) happen by the end of this transfer window, and how La Blaugrana plan to get by during the upcoming season.
It’s no secret that Barcelona’s Achilles heel is their defense. Not the defense as a whole, but what Barcelona is affected by is a lack of depth in the squad in terms of central defenders. Numerous times last season, defensive midfielders as well as wingbacks, had to play as central defenders for Barcelona because they simply did not have enough manpower to cover for injuries. Of the two natural center backs, Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué, the former has been very injury prone the last two seasons. Pique has also been sidelined for shorter periods of time but, when healthy, he has struggled to compose himself without a proper partner. Javier Mascherano, who is not a natural central defender, has not fared well against top opposition and has not formed a solid partnership with Pique. Barcelona’s defense has not performed well against top class opposition the past season. Nothing illustrated to Barcelona just how weak their defense had become than the 7-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in last year’s semi-final. Also ringing the alarm bells for Barcelona was how easily Real Madrid managed to pick them apart in the Super Copa, La Liga, and Copa Del Rey. An alarming statistic since Real had rarely achieved such clear cut victories in seasons prior. Yet here is Barcelona, hours away from starting a new season of challenges, seemingly unprepared to meet those challenges. Their undoing will most likely once again be their defence.
Even if Barcelona does sign a central defender by the closing of the transfer window on September 2 it currently might already be too little, too late. Several factors already hinder Barcelona to effectively implement a plan to acquire a player who can play central defense in the long run. By long run I mean Barcelona will probably not be able to acquire a player, in this window, who can play for years to come. The factors that hinder Barcelona the most is their timing, their budget, and the availability of players on the market.
Timing is not right
For one, if Barcelona do try and acquire a player before the transfer window closes their timing will hinder moves for the vast majority of central defenders on the continent. At this moment in time most leagues in Europe have or are kicking off. Teams are less likely to want to discard players once the season starts because managers understand that the season is long and arduous. Manpower in numbers is vital for any squad to be able to endure a long campaign. Also, by the time a league starts, most managers have finalized their squads. The players who were on the fringes have already moved on, new players have come in to replace them, and a manager has set his squad for the season. Its unlikely Barcelona will be able to find a top player this late in the season for the reasons stated. Timing is of the essence since players who wanted to move have already submitted request and moved onto new teams by this point in time. Teams who sold top players have also already replaced them, depleting the pool of prospective defenders even further. If Barcelona expects to find a top talent on the cheap, right now is not the time to be frugal. It will take a substantial offer for any manager to alter his plans for the season by letting a vital piece of his squad leave this late. No top team wants to be in Barcelona’s position this late in the transfer game. Barcelona are probably too late and cannot pursue a top player at this time.
Budget is the second hindering factor Barcelona face. As has been stated, no manager wants to alter his squad once a season starts. It’s inconvenient for any squad to accept a small offer for a top central defender right now because by selling to Barcelona, they will inherit Barcelona’s problem, which is a crisis of depth and an inability to find a replacement of equal quality. For Barcelona to have a chance to acquire a top talent they will need to spend on a player and pay a late fee. Only offers that are too good to say no too will be heard. It will undoubtedly take offers of 40+million for any team to be even willing to listen to offers from Barcelona. Is it something that Barcelona can afford? Of course it is. Now is it what the player in question will really be worth in terms of quality and service he will give to the team? That, is an unlikely prospect.
When a team is in the market for elite defenders the supply pool is extremely limited. Demand for these players will always be high since top teams around Europe want the best defenders but there aren’t enough reputable top defenders to go around. At the start of the transfer window these top players will cost any team roughly 20-40million. This late into the window, with the season kicking off, their value to a squad increases even more since they are scarce assets to have. As the transfer deadline approaches they become harder to acquire and prices will skyrocket to try and deter potential suitors from disrupting a squad. The main concern is can Barcelona really afford this type of player with the acquisition of Neymar?
With the sale of players like Thiago Alcantara and David Villa, as well as the elimination of their wage bills, Barcelona can afford this type of player but not without hardship. The budget that has been freed by these sales is still not enough to convince any squad to part with a vital player. Unless Barcelona secure addition funds to be able to pay a bigger fee upfront, no squad will sell Barcelona a top central defender right now. The real question is, if a team is willing to sell Barcelona a top defender, is Barcelona committed enough to meet their valuation for this player? Perhaps making him the most expensive defender ever? It will require that level of determination. Barcelona will have to pay roughly what United paid for Rio Ferdinand (€46m) if not more. Overpriced players are just going to be the norm this late into the window when looking at a small pool of talents.
Top talents are not easily available
The third factor that is probably the most deciding factor that will allow Barcelona to decide which player to acquire is availability. What’s available at the moment are defenders Barcelona have no interest in but that it can acquired. Forget names like David Luiz, Daniel Agger, Thiago Silva, and Laurent Koscielny. Their clubs will not let them leave for a reasonable amount at this time. To give some hope, of the mentioned targets, Daniel Agger is probably the easiest to get but still remotely far from a viable signing.
Realistic targets that are available for a price are players from selling clubs. Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi from Porto are viable options. Jeremy Mathieu and Adil Rami from Valencia are another pair of options. The point is they come from clubs that are selling clubs and they are willing to listen to offers at this time because these players aren’t top sought after defenders. Their clubs are also not threatened by the loss of these players since their seasonal ambitions are much smaller and these players were acquired to be sold for profit at a later time. Another type of player that suits Barcelona is someone like Mamadou Sakho. Sakho was the captain at PSG, but is now a fringe player in his team and a has expressed a desire to leave his club. These are the viable options that are available right now unless Barcelona is willing to break the bank to bring in a defender with a reputation. Otherwise, if money is an issue, these two types are all that’s viable.
So what will Barcelona do this season?
Realistically, based on the mentioned three factors, Barcelona won’t acquire a top defender this summer. Even for players from selling clubs, Barca will have to give up a significant fee and take a gamble. The gamble is they must acquire a player that’s unproven in top flight and has almost no time to adapt since La Liga will be in full swing. With this taken into consideration as well, it’s probable that Barcelona will try to shop within La Liga, if at all. At this time it’s simply too late, the asking prices are too high for Barcelona’s budget, and what’s available to acquire is a gamble or a stopgap measure at best.
What further lends credibility to the idea that Barcelona won’t acquire a defender is also the fact that manager Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, has chosen to place some faith in the youth. Youngsters like Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra, and Frank Bagnack, have featured in most of the pre-season fixtures. Perhaps Martino knows of the situation and is preparing these young players for a season in which they’ll have to step up. Only time will tell when or if Barcelona will acquire a defender this summer but as the days go by that possibility looks increasingly unlikely.