With the departure of Maxwell to free-spending Paris St Germain, some are suggesting that Barcelona need to sign extra cover to bolster their thin squad. While I agree in principle, the winter transfer window is not a transfer window for the best clubs in the world. In general, this is the time for a relegation threatened club to rebuild, perhaps with a new manager, or it is for panic buys. Now, there is an exception the rule, as truly prudent clubs will sign players in January, but they tend to be players like Ibrahim Afellay (i.e. those who are running out of contract and are therefore available for a knock-down price).
As noted previous, Barcelona have conducted business in January before, but Afellay was a special case, and in my opinion at least, is unlikely to be repeated this year. Instead Guardiola will look the B team for suitable replacements, allowing him to assess the talent and decide upon transfer targets as a result.
However, with Maxwell gone and Andreu Fontas injured/not good enough for the squad, Barcelona are looking just a little short of defensive numbers. Not only that, but Carles Puyol isn’t getting any younger while Eric Abidal is swiftly running out of contract; the clear area that needs strengthening in the summer is the defense, and in lieu of this, I have produced a scout report of sorts on a few potential targets.
Name: Jordi Alba
Club: Valencia CF
Asking Price: €5-10 million
What can I say about Jordi Alba that we haven’t already seen? Alba was one of, if the not the star player in that difficult game earlier in the season at the Mestalla, tearing Barcelona’s right-hand side to shreds with his partner in crime Jeremy Mathieu. However, while Mathieu continues to perform inconsistently, Alba has continued to raise his game.
Earning himself a call-up to the Spanish squad for the final two European Championships he debuted against Scotland. I remember watching that match in awe of the Spaniards (as per usual) but the first goal was sublime even by their standards. The build-up was phenomenal, around 42 passes to be precise, although the final pass was the most important and it was executed by none other than Jordi Alba himself.
Though, it was no surprise. Alba may have been a "Barca reject", but he had spent seven years at La Masia honing his skills before he was famously released for being too small. I don’t get it either, maybe it’s one of those hyperbolic stories that helped him get noticed, who knows. Whatever the case, Alba is a Catalan and is schooled in the Barcelona style of play, minimising any risk of failure at the club (like Chygrynskiy), while Arsenal fans will suggest that we can unsettle him with daily press conferences...
Alba’s attacking ability could prove invaluable in tight matches and take the onus away from whoever is playing left-wing; a position fast becoming a curse for Barca players. If you have never seen Alba play before, think of him like Adriano, but a little more refined.
Name: Thiago Silva
Club: AC Milan
Asking Price: €35-50 million
One of the priciest option on this list is Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva, who some have suggested is Barcelona bound come the summer break. Again, he has performed excellently against the Blaugrana this season, including that infamous injury-time headed equaliser, but I would think that Silva is too expensive to be a realistic target. Yes, Barcelona have more than enough money to facilitate both his signing and wage demands, but there simply is not a guaranteed starting place for the Brazilian as of yet.
Carles Puyol has reached God-like status amongst all Culés, while Gerard Pique is easily one of the best, if not the best centre-back in world football. Both are tailor-made for the Barcelona system while no such guarantees can be made with Thiago Silva. Admittedly, I haven’t seen a Brazilian fail to adapt to the Cruyff style of play, but it is a whole lot of money to spend on little more than a rotation player, at least this summer anyway.
On the other hand, Thiago Silva is physically imposing in a way Pique can only dream about, while he boasts the speed Carles Puyol is gradually losing. Think of Pepe with an ice-cool temperament, Silva would certainly be a superb addition if Barcelona moved into 3-4-3 for the foreseeable future. That trio of centre-backs could lay claim to being the three best in the world, a situation that would undoubtedly have its benefits.
Name: Alberto Botia
Club: Sporting Gijon
Asking Price: €2.5 million
Moving from one of the most expensive to the cheapest, Alberto Botia is an ex-Barca player, similar to Jordi Alba. However, he was not released for being too small, but so he could further his career elsewhere with match experience. Spanish clubs tend not to loan players out anymore, but sell players with the insertion of a buy back clause if they turn out any good. Real Madrid almost always does it with Getafe; albeit with mixed results, but Barcelona tend to be a little better.
Currently plying their trade away from the Camp Nou with buy-back clauses are Bojan, Oriol Romeu and of course Alberto Botia. That’s three players for each section of the field each getting game time at progressively better clubs ready to be bought back if they fulfil their potential. Botia has excelled under the management of Manuel Preciado, playing in over 70 games for the Asturians. His development is certainly a familiar one, pretty similar to the path taken by Gerard Pique in his road to stardom, and I see no reason why Botia cannot become a household name like Pique.
Botia is tall and strong, but quick enough to keep pace with most attackers. He is comfortable in possession, which is paramount for any centre-back with aspirations to play for Barcelona, and like Carles Puyol, he could fill in at right-back if required. At €2.5 million, I think it would be foolish for Guardiola not to exercise the option especially when we consider that leading transfer site Transfermarkt.de value him at €6.5 million.
Name: Domenico Criscito
Asking Price: €15-25 million
This is arguably the least likely of all the transfers for a variety of reasons. Currently playing in Russia for Zenit St. Petersburg, Criscito only moved a year ago for a fee believed to be around €15 million. Zenit have little need for transfer money as they are owned by Gazprom, and Barcelona cannot offer him anything particularly unique, such as Champions League football as he is at the top level with Zenit anyway.
Zenit are actually supposed to be Champions League winners in the near future, according to the board of directors anyway, making the lure of Barcelona less of a factor in the transfer. However, living in a purely hypothetical world, Criscito could be a good signing. As an Italian, he is clearly a fine defensive player, while he can pose a threat down the left-hand side much like Eric Abidal does at present. Not only that, but he could operate on the left side of defense in a 3-4-3, or a left midfield role in the same formation.
In addition to this, Criscito would still be cheaper than Thiago Silva and he is considerably younger than the Brazilian making it a more intelligent purchase. Personally, I would love to see Crsicito in a Barcelona shirt, but somehow I doubt it is even remotely likely.
Name: Georgi Schennikov
Club: CSKA Moscow
Asking Price: €5-10 million
Long-time readers of the blog may remember me talking about Schennikov before, but for those who have never heard of the Russian full-back, allow me to elaborate. Schennikov is arguably the most talented left-sided defender in Russia at this given point in time. Yet to make his debut for the national team with former Chelsea full-back/winger Yuri Zhirkov firmly ahead of the youngster in the pecking order, he has impressed for the under-21 side in recent months.
He has been part of a miserly defense that has conceded just the one goal in their first four qualification matches for the 2013 under-21 Euro Championships, although one expects that he is unlikely to move to Barcelona at any time in his career. Simply put, I cannot remember the Blaugrana signing anyone from Russia, and the ill-advised transfer for Chygrynskiy from neighbouring Ukraine was probably based upon his performances against Guardiola’s side rather than a scouting network in Eastern Europe. Schennikov could fill in as a left-midfielder in a 3-4-3, but this is probably the only page on the internet linking him with Barcelona, so a move appears highly improbable.
Name: Gareth Bale
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Asking Price: €40-60 million
I have a number of problems with rumours linking Bale to Barcelona, not least because they are unfounded and just plain wrong. First of all, Bale is not a left-back. Second of all, when he played left-back for Tottenham they went on a mammoth run where they failed to win if the Welshman was at left-back. Thirdly, Barcelona does not need any more attackers.
But, if I leave that to one side, I understand the reasoning behind it all. On one side we have Dani Alves, and the tiresome observation made by every commentator is that Alves is not really a right-back. His position in the Barcelona system has him operating as a right-winger at times, hence the observation, and therefore it could make sense that Bale would sign as a "left-back". He could "play" left-back and operate as a left-winger much like an Alves of the left and it could aid the Blaugrana against stubborn opposition.
However, while I hold 100% confidence in Alves’ ability as a defender, I am unsure about Bale. For Tottenham he plays left-wing. This means that he does track back and help defensively, but there is a massive difference between being a good defender and someone who is helpful when tracking back. One requires a whole lot more discipline, tactical nous if you will, which Alves actually has in abundance. While we chastise Cristiano Ronaldo for his performances against Barcelona, credit has to go to Alves for shutting him down on almost every occasion. Would Bale do the same to Angel Di Maria? Doubtful, and therefore he must go down as a fantasy football signing. Last thing I want Barcelona to do is turn into the Galacticos...
Name: Mats Hummels
Club: Borrusia Dortmund
Asking Price: €20-25 million
Ask 10 Barcelona fans who they would like to sign in defence, and I guarantee you Hummels' name will creep up the most. Currently plying his trade for German champions Dortmund, he has supposedly been a long-term target for Barcelona, although I would hazard a guess that any reports linking him to the World Champions are little more than hype. Sure, the German fits the bill nigh-on perfectly; he can pass the ball well, he is physically imposing and still athletic enough to keep the pace, but he seems almost too similar to Gerard Pique.
One of the premier sides in world football let him go for an absurdly low price, only for him to flourish with one of their closest rivals. While this particular case is undoubtedly between domestic rivals instead of European rivals, it is almost identical to that of Pique. Both are regarded as world-class centre-backs, each can fill in at holding midfield if required, heck, they are even the same height.
If Barcelona did sign Hummels he would indicate a switch to 3-4-3, and it simply doesn’t fit into the only available role. Think about it. There is Gerard Pique as the ball-playing (possession oriented) centre-back, Carles Puyol as the limited/safety first centre-back and then either Javier Mascherano or Eric Abidal as the cover defender with pace on their side. Hummels would not really make a suitable replacement for Abidal or Mascherano, thus, I feel he is not a viable target.
Name: Benedikt Howedes
Asking Price: €10-20 million
While I think Hummels would not fit into the current 3-4-3 system, there is a German that I believe could operate as a quick cover defender: Benedikt Howedes. The Schalke centre-back was superb in last season’s run to the Champions League semi-finals, and while the plaudits went mostly to Manuel Neuer for keeping the Manchester United side from scoring a hatful, the absence of Howedes was one of the reasons that United were dominating. The second leg saw the German return, but by then the tie was over, and some uncharacteristic errors from Neuer made the score look worse than it could have been.
Howedes certainly boasts speed; his work-rate is exceptional, while his aerial presence is up there with the best in the world. While his passing could do with a little work, I believe Howedes would be a shrewd acquisition at 23 years of age. Bearing in mind that he should be starting for Germany in the European Championships, expect to hear a whole lot more about Howedes in the coming months.
Fun fact: He was born on a leap day
What I would like to know is who you would sign if you were Pep Guardiola, whether they are from the list above or not. Personally, I would sign Howedes and Jordi Alba along with Botia, while getting rid of Andreu Fontas (on loan) and permanently converting Adriano to a position on the wing. What do you think?