When the disaster that was last season ended, one thing was clear: Barcelona was in desperate need of center-backs. The pairing of Javier Mascherano and Marc Bartra was just not good enough for any team, let alone Barça. Something had to change, or the fear of conceding a goal every time the opponent was near the box would be constant, and eternal.
Barça's board finally payed attention to the issues on defense and decided to act, signing a center-back for the first time since 2009. And it was a double dose. They had to overpay to convince Valencia to let Jérémy Mathieu go to Catalunya. No, it's not ideal to spend €20 million on a 30-year-old CB that had never impressed in his career. But that's what they had to pay in order to get the player that Luis Enrique vehemently asked for.
After just two months at the club, Mathieu is proving, over and over again, that he was worth every Euro. His performances get better and better, and he has been awesome both as a CB and a LB, as his last game proved. We don't know what's happening with Mathieu in April and May -- the most important part of the season --, but he has shut the critics up so far. The defense looks definitely stronger with him on the pitch, and the French is one of the main reasons why Barça haven't conceded a goal in seven of their first eight games.
And then there's Thomas Vermaelen. Barça fans tend to forget about the Belgium international, but the €15 million center-back hasn't played one single minute in the first team. He keeps nursing the groin injury he suffered in Brazil during the World Cup, and the date of his return is still unknown.
That's a problem. It's not like this is Vermaelen's first career injury. His whole life has been plagued by contusion after contusion, and despite his undeniable talent and leadership skills, the injury problems always come first.
Luis Enrique wanted the Vermaelen signing because he wanted another Mathieu: a left-footed CB who's a natural leader and can also play as a left-back if needed. I understand Lucho's reasoning, but we haven't seen Thomas on the pitch yet -- yes, he played sixty minutes against the Indonesia U-19 team, but that's simply not enough.
Look, the guy has a groin injury since J-U-N-E. That's four months recovering from a minor problem. It's not good. And the thing is: we already knew this was going to happen, because we have seen this for five years, since he arrived at Arsenal. He was nursing injuries more than he was playing, even though he was playing great when on the pitch. But if you're not on the pitch on the most important matches, you're basically useless.
Thankfully, he's not the first option at CB. Not even the second, or the third. Heck, Mascherano is probably above Vermaelen in the center-back depth chart -- BREAKING NEWS: Mascherano is not a center-back.
I'm really hopeful that Vermaelen erases the "injury-prone" status from our heads once he's finally able to play. The problem is: I don't think that's going to happen. It's unfortunate, but the truth is that Vermaelen is shaping up to be Barça's biggest mistake of this season. Even though it is not really his fault. His body just keeps failing him.
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