After assessing the options currently available at pivote in my last post, the general consensus seems to be that Barcelona are a little short in defensive midfield. Sergio Busquets has the starting role locked down, but with rumours circulating that Jonathan Dos Santos could be leaving the club on loan, with Real Betis and Malaga reportedly interested, or even on a permanent basis to Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona could be left with just one natural pivote for the upcoming season.
With the interest in Javi Martinez all but over (thank goodness), it appears as though the Blaugrana are ready to entrust Marc Bartra with a place in the squad, convert Javier Mascherano to a full-time centre-back (if he wasn’t already) and sign a back-up player for defensive midfield. With that in mind, here are a few targets I think Tito and Zubi should keep in mind.
Currently plying his trade with Villarreal in the Segunda, Bruno is arguably the most logical solution for our pivote problem. He may not be from La Masia, but he is a product of Villarreal’s highly-rated academy, which is pretty much the next best thing. Bruno has been a regular for the Yellow Submarine for the past five years, and while he has only represented Spain on four occasions, you can attribute that to the depth in the Spanish midfield rather than a lack of ability on his part. At 28, Bruno is one of the most experienced candidates on the list, but given Villarreal’s relegation he would be amongst the cheapest as well.
As one might expect from a Spaniard, and as a graduate of Villarreal’s academy, Bruno can pass the ball exceptionally well, registering the 6th highest number of passes per game in La Liga last season, and excluding Barcelona and Real Madrid players, Bruno made the most passes per game in La Liga. Not only that, but his passing was accurate, registering the highest pass completion rate in the league – Barca and Real players excluded. However, Bruno also excels as a midfield destroyer and made the second-highest number of interceptions in last year’s La Liga.
However, one potential pitfall is Bruno’s loyalty. As a product of Villarreal’s academy, he has played for the Yellow Submarine his entire career. While the allure of Champions League football can be hard to resist, I’m sure Bruno would take equal satisfaction in leading Villarreal back to the Primera division, especially when he is guaranteed a starting spot at El Madrigal.
Details vary regarding the situation of Romeu at Chelsea, with some insisting that Barcelona have a buy-back clause, while others – including Chelsea themselves – insisting that it is not as simple as that, and Barcelona merely have first refusal should the Blues opt to sell him. Whatever the case, given Chelsea’s free spending and Financial Fair Play, they would be foolish to turn down a bid of €10-15 million for a fringe player. Romeu started the season strongly for Chelsea, but saw his playing time limited under the reign of Roberto Di Matteo. Whether that will change for the upcoming season is unknown, and something that Barcelona could take advantage of.
Romeu is a La Masia graduate and having spent around seven years with the club, he would fit in perfectly with the style of play. A defensive midfielder by trade, Romeu is also capable of filling in at centre-half; now, if that doesn’t make him the perfect signing, I don’t know what will. Much like Bruno, Romeu is a great passer of the ball, but he also doubles as a midfield destroyer – which is somewhat expected given his capability at centre-back. In addition to that, Romeu would add a physical presence to the Blaugrana midfield, filling the gap left by Seydou Keita’s departure.
There are a number of obstacles blocking the move though, not least being Chelsea themselves. If they do not want to sell, then (taking their word on the buy-back clause as gospel) they do not have to. They have little need for money or space on the wage bill unlike Villarreal, and Chelsea are one of the elite clubs in Europe, so Barcelona would be relying on Romeu asking to "go home" à la Cesc Fàbregas. Also, at 182cm, one could argue that Romeu is a little too small to play centre-half, especially if he plays alongside Mascherano.
Sandro is a current Brazil U23 international, and to be honest, is something of a long-shot. A combative defensive midfielder, Sandro would certainly add physical presence to the Barcelona midfield, and then some. He loves to tackle, and as a result of this "enthusiasm" he gives away a lot of fouls, but it has earned him a reputation as a good midfield enforcer – a bruiser if you will. But then again, you wouldn’t expect anything less from a man who wears a gum shield to play football.
That being said, there is more to Sandro than physicality. He can hold the ball up well, drawing a lot of fouls from opposing players much like Busquets does, albeit with less dramatics. Sandro can also pass the ball well, favouring a short passing game which would fit in well with the Catalans, but there are question marks as to whether he could keep that up over 90 minutes playing for a team where he would get more touches of the ball as opposed to Tottenham’s counter-attacking style. Sandro also possesses a fearsome long-range shot, which would add another dimension to the Blaugrana attack.
However, there is one major pitfall, being that Sandro plays for Spurs. As I’m sure Real Madrid fans will attest with the Luka Modric saga dragging on seemingly forever, Spurs and Daniel Levy in particular aren’t keen on negotiating player sales. Back-up keeper Gomes asked to leave for Russia, but was denied by former coach Harry Redknapp and the club, while Giovani Dos Santos has been rotting in their reserves for the best part of two years, despite interest from clubs in La Liga. The only hope is that Sandro Rosell still has influence in Brazil and could manufacture a way in for his namesake that way.
At the ripe old age of 31, Cambiasso is the oldest candidate on the list, but he is also the most successful, and almost certainly the best. While Lionel Messi should overtake him this season, Cambiasso is the most successful Argentine football player of all-time, having won 23 titles throughout his illustrious career. One of Real Madrid’s most high-profile mistakes, Esteban actually started his career with Real having spent two years at La Fabrica, before being released not just once, but twice by Los Blancos.
Cambiasso is a phenomenal player and even at his age, he is still up there with the best midfielders in the world. Admittedly, he wasn’t at his best last season, but with Inter changing coaches like clothes, it must have been difficult for Cambiasso to settle into a rhythm. His passing is good, but not spectacular, although he has been known to play further forward in midfield due to his creativity. Cambiasso is a superb tackler and could easily slot into a 4-2-3-1, which is something Tito may (or may not) be looking to experiment with.
On the other hand, would Cambiasso be open to a move away from Inter? Just recently he reaffirmed his commitment to the club, stating that he has never been tempted to leave despite the lowly sixth-place finish. Then again, despite disclosing that he did have offers to leave, Cambiasso didn’t state who was interested, and indeed an offer from Barcelona would be wholly different to an offer from Russia or similar. Could he resist Champions League football if Barcelona offered it to him, and could he resist the chance to add yet more titles to his C.V.? Who knows, maybe he would be interested in getting back at Real Madrid too...
Who would you like to see Barcelona sign as a back-up pivote? Vote for one of the options in our poll below, or comment with your choices!