The Eternal Question: Does Barcelona Need a "9"?

Henrik Larsson left an impression at Barcelona. - Stu Forster

Since the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Barcelona have not had a "true 9" in the lineup. Ibra's underwhelming performances, and Messi's continued brilliance in the centerforward spot, have made the team resist bringing someone else. But its tactical advantages entice many.

Barcelona are famous for having small players, but do they need one "big strong lad" upfront? It's the question that reappears every so often whenever discussing strategy, and it's come to the surface again with continued rumors that manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino is open to the idea.

Barca's forward line wasn't always so diminutive. At one point, Barcelona boasted Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o alongside Lionel Messi. Henry is 6'2" and Eto'o 5'11".

The extremely tall (6'5") and extremely talented Zlatan Ibrahimovic was brought in at a massive price in 2009 to give the attack an even larger pillar to refer to. While he was not bad by any means, he was not the piece Barca had hoped for. He was gone in a year.

David Villa, his replacement, could play as a centerforward, but at 5'9", was small by the position's standards. The forward signings have been small since, too: Alexis Sanchez is 5'7", Neymar 5'9".

The team's best penalty box threats are actually Gerard Pique, a defender, and Cesc Fabregas, a midfielder. Both are adequate for the job, but hardly optimal.

Reports have surfaced that Barcelona is targeting a forward for the winter transfer window. In Barca speak, they are looking for a "Larsson." As in, Henrik Larsson.

Larsson signed for Barcelona in the latter stages of his career, a renowned figure in Scottish football and a club legend for Celtic, but hardly a superstar by that point.

The Swede was reliable but not necessarily spectacular in Blaugrana, scoring 19 goals in 2 seasons. But he will always be remembered for his last game with Barca.

In the Champions League final, he came on as a sub with Barcelona losing 0-1 to Arsenal. In a flash and with great class, Larsson set up two goals and Barcelona took home the winners' medal.

Larsson was not especially tall (less than 5'10"), but he had a great footballing intelligence and scoring ability. It's those things that make Barca eager to seek a veteran, who won't expect to play too much but will change games when he does.

The list in the media is as follows: Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Imanol Agirretxe (Real Sociedad), Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord), Artyom Dzyuba (FC Rostov), Oscar Cardozo (Benfica), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Stefan Kiessling (Leverkusen), Dario Cvitanich (Nice), Roque Santa Cruz (Malaga), Nelson Valdez (Al Jazira),  David Trezeguet (Newell's), Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Georgios Samaras (Celtic).

All of them are above 6 feet, bar Valdez and Cvitanich. and all of them are older than 28, bar two. Generally the trend is an older player, who is good in the air and a quality finisher.

Would that signing make sense, even prioritizing it above getting a CB?

There is a theory that the next "9" should come from La Masia. Jean-Marie Dongou is the most celebrated forward prospect in Barcelona B. At 18, he is still very young, but Barca hope he can start contributing to the senior team soon.

Tony Sanabria, 17, is also one for the future. He has already debuted with the senior Paraguayan national team. And finally, Sandro Ramirez, a Spanish U19 international, is another youth option at the position.

There is a final strand of thought which says small ball is the way to go. Barcelona's offense has been consistently one of the most potent in all of Europe year after year, why mess it up at the expense of either a player past his prime or an unproven youth teamer?

One has to consider whether that money is better spent strengthening the defense, or seeking a replacement for Victor Valdes when the goalkeeper leaves at the end of the season.

In many ways, however, relying on the youth team could prove a good compromise. A youth player would be free and wouldn't expect to play much at first. Still, that solution is probably at least a year away, if not more.

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