The Hard Tackle takes a look at three cheaper alternatives for Lautaro Martinez that Barcelona can target, owing to their financial struggles.
Barcelona appear to be in all sorts of troubles at the moment. If an uncharacteristic mid-season sacking of a manager was not enough, their off-the-field issues are only piling up. This week, the Catalans have seen six board members resign, telling club president Josep Maria Bartomeu that the management of the club is in absolute shambles.
The former board members have also called for the club to hold fresh presidential elections. The latest setback comes in the wake of an unprecedented scandal, wherein Barcelona were forced to deny that they hired a firm to attack their own players on social media. That is not all, though.
The Spanish giants raked in record revenue last year and Bartomeu proclaimed that revenues will cross the €1 billion mark this year. But, when the club decided to take advantage of a Spanish government scheme for enforcing emergency pay-cuts and lay-offs, after all activities were ceased due to the coronavirus outbreak, questions were raised over their finances.
A closer look has suggested that Barcelona are crumbling under a mountain of debt while their 2019-20 budget needs around €125 million as income from player sales to balance their books. Amid all this, it is difficult to fathom how they will be able to afford paying a nine-figure transfer fee for Lautaro Martinez.
The Argentinean striker has been touted to be a priority for Barcelona heading into the summer transfer window. However, a reported €111 million release clause has trouble written all over it, if the Blaugrana do push for a move for Martinez, seeing as they had to to borrow the entire €120 million to pay Antoine Griezmann’s buyout clause last summer.
In such a scenario, Barcelona ought to identify cost effective alternatives, so as to not burn a hole in their pocket, considering they are also seemingly desperate to bring Neymar back to Camp Nou. To that end, The Hard Tackle now lists three such options that Barcelona should examine ahead of the summer transfer window.
Short-Term Fix: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Much of the talk over who will be the one to replace the ageing Luis Suarez has centered around the 22-year-old Lautaro Martinez. The impressive young striker does seem to possess all the traits that will make him the ideal successor to Suarez. However, at the same time, one more name has been linked with Barcelona.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has long been rated as one of the best strikers in the world. The Arsenal skipper even gave the brilliant Robert Lewandowski a run for his money during his stint with Borussia Dortmund. And, he has only continued to make waves since joining the Gunners.
In only his first full season with Arsenal, Aubameyang managed to win the Premier League Golden Boot; and, he looked on course to do a repeat this season before the coronavirus pandemic forced the football world to slam the brakes on the ongoing season.
Aubameyang, though, will soon enter the final year of his contract with Arsenal and there has been little to no development on the renewal front. Such a situation makes him the perfect candidate for a club to swoop him away from the Emirates. Unsurprisingly, Barcelona have had their sights set on Aubameyang even as they target a move for Martinez.
Aubameyang’s control over the ball coupled with his undoubted finishing abilities would make him the perfect foil for the likes of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Arthur and Frenkie de Jong. On top of that, the fact that he can also play on the left wing as adeptly as he does through the middle only serves to make the Gabonese a more appealing prospect for Barcelona.
While he does not have age on his side like Martinez does, Aubameyang is at the peak of his powers and could be the perfect short-term fix, potentially providing Barcelona at least three years of top level football. The cherry on top is the fact that he will have less than a year remaining on his deal with Arsenal, thereby bringing his price down.
Arsenal could choose to keep a firm hold on Aubameyang, but then they would also run the risk of getting into an Alexis Sanchez-like situation, if the 31-year-old is adamant that he is not going to put pen to paper on a new contract. All in all, this looks like a perfect situation for Barcelona to pounce on.
The Long-Term Solution: Timo Werner
Another name that has done the rounds, even if briefly so, is Timo Werner. Like Aubameyang, the German striker would be a relatively economical option for Barcelona, as compared to Lautaro Martinez, with Bild reporting that he has a release clause worth €60 million.
Considering his age and progress graph, a €60 million outlay on a player like Werner could be quite a bargain. The 24-year-old has been on absolute tear this season, with 27 goals and 12 assists in 36 appearances across all competitions, making 2019-20 the most productive season of his career.
A proficient ball carrier, Werner has now added deadly finishing abilities to his arsenal. He also has a trait that is predominantly seen in Messi at Barcelona – the ability to drop deep and be heavily involved in the build-up play while having the killer pass in him to set a teammate up as well as some intelligent movement off the ball.
Much like Aubameyang, Werner’s versatility makes him an enticing option for Barcelona, who look for dynamism in the final third, especially with Luis Suarez leading the line. Barcelona, though, are likely to face competition from Chelsea and Liverpool, which makes the pursuit of the German international somewhat tricky.
However, if they do manage to convince Werner to snub Premier League giants Chelsea and Liverpool, he could be the ideal long-term solution that they need. Coming at nearly half the price that they would need to pay to sign Lautaro Martinez, Barcelona can also save money aplenty amid the potentially troubled times they find themselves in.
A Potential Dark Horse: Donyell Malen
Now here is an option that is a bit left of centre. Donyell Malen does not have the star power of Timo Werner, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Lautaro Martinez. However, the Dutch international has talent and potential in abundance.
At just 21 years of age, Malen is also the kind of player who Quique Setien could mould to his liking while he learns the ropes from Suarez. And, in the time that he is deemed ready to become the first-choice striker at Camp Nou, it is likely that the time to move Suarez on would have arrived, thereby paving the way for a smooth succession plan to be undertaken.
All this while, he would give Setien the option to rest Suarez regularly, something the Uruguayan has not had the privilege to enjoy the past few seasons. Another trait that makes Malen possibly the right fit at Barcelona is something that the other two candidates boast of too – the ability to play out wide just as well as he does through the middle.
In fact, of his four appearances for the Dutch national side, two have come as a winger, a role he has frequently essayed for PSV Eindhoven as well. Malen’s progress this season has been curtailed by a couple of injuries, with the latest spell on the sidelines being due to a knee surgery. But, before being forced out of action, he had an impressive return of 17 goals and 9 assists in 25 outings this term.
A natural inside the box, Malen has express pace that he can use to beat the opposition defender as well as deadly finishing ability, qualities that would help him combine ever so well with Messi as well as the Barcelona midfielders. Talking about his finishing prowess, Malen is comfortable with both feet and is also an able header of the ball.
The numbers quoted in the press are similar to Werner’s release clause, which make him another relatively cheaper alternative to Lautaro Martinez. With market values likely to plunge in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Barcelona might be able to save big by completing a move for Malen. Having said that, if they are looking for an instant solution, signing either Werner or Aubameyang would be a more prudent move.