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State of the Right Back Position; Who will replace Dani Alves?

With Dani Alves seemingly either on the way out or on a steady decline in performance, much talk has been made of Barcelona's targets in replacing the marauding right back. This article attempts to identify Barcelona's options moving forward, and give a general outlook on the current crop of right backs in world football.

David Ramos/Getty Images

In this writer’s eyes, in terms of transfers and team building, the current board should be most focused on the right back position. Dani Alves is either in decline or will soon be in the next year or two (I will refrain from any judgments). Regardless, his current contract situation would likely be very different if Barcelona were not looking at an ongoing transfer ban. Martin Montoya has been capable, but is not the marauding wing back that Barcelona look for, and has not shown the overall talent level that a club like FCB demands from a starter.

While talk of midfielders and attackers being bought seem to grab the headlines, the attacking trio here is the best in the world, the bench is full of capable backups, and La Masia is continuing to pump out talent. In the midfield, which is more pressing because of the eventual decline of Iniesta and Xavi, we also have a large selection of players both at the first team level and at La Masia/on loan. Even at left back we have Jordi Alba in his prime and a talented player in Alex Grimaldo waiting in the wings (and Lucas Gafarot even further down). This position is highly important because Barcelona, whose wide forwards typically cut in toward goal, rely on their full backs to do a lot, adding width and creativity while also not neglecting their defensive duties. It’s not an easy club to play for in that sense, and takes a certain kind of player.

Anyway, right back is really the only bare, or soon to be, cupboard in the house. Adriano is a fine rotation player because he will go on either side, but that’s it after Alves and Montoya. I’m not going to acknowledge Douglas’ existence. There are a few players at La Masia that may inherit the title, but none that are being touted as big prospects. In this article, we will look at the state of the right back in modern football and what options Barcelona has for eventually replacing Dani Alves. There will be no suggestions, just brainstorming, and part of the exercise is to look deeper into the current state of this position in the modern game. And yes, I know there is a transfer ban. Let’s get going!

This first group of players consists of those that are currently considered as the best right backs in the game. I am not going into detail on any of them, but for the reasons of cost, age, playing style, belonging to rivals who would never sell, etc., I would not expect or want Barcelona to go after any of them. It will give us an idea, though, who is currently considered the top at the position.  All monetary value is in Euros.

  • Philip Lahm – 31 years old – Bayern Munich   
  • Daniel Carjaval – 23 years old – Real Madrid
  • Pablo Zabaleta – 30 years old – Manchester City
  • Juanfran – 30 years old – Atletico Madrid
  • Branislav Ivanovic – 31 years old – Chelsea
  • Mathieu Debuchy – 29 years old – Arsenal
  • Stephan Lichtsteiner – 31 years old – Juventus
  • Lukasz Piszczek – 29 years old – Dortmund
  • Rafinha – 29 years old – Bayern Munich
  • Ignazio Abate – 28 years old – AC Milan

And of course, if he weren’t already on FCB, Dani Alves would be prominent on this list. These are the top rated right backs playing football today, and as you can see, it’s not a position full of excitement at the moment. Many of these players are either already very happy at their clubs, too old/expensive, or just would not fit Barcelona. Carjaval is the closest thing to a long-term, world class level replacement for Alves, but Real Madrid…yeah. The next group we will look at are younger players who are not as well established or well-known, but who have played at a high level and are either in their prime or about to enter it.  They are, most likely, the type of player at the point in their career that Barcelona would be interested in:

  • Danilo – 23 years old - FC Porto

Danilo is the most discussed transfer target, seemingly both by the board and the fans. He is also wanted by several other top clubs and is already the world record holder in the Portuguese Premier division for the highest transfer fee paid for a defender (€13m), so he is not coming cheap. However, he represents what could be the most like-for-like Alves replacement. He is a creative wing back who terrorizes the right flank, provides lots of assists, and even chips in with great free kick ability. Also, he’s Brazilian.

  • Seamus Coleman – 26 years old – Everton

This is one that I never see being discussed, and maybe that is for a reason, though I’m not sure what. Personally, I watch Everton almost every week (it helps me follow the BPL AND it’s nice to have a small, self-loathing club to follow to balance out the weighty expectations of Barca every year) and I’ve thought about what Coleman could do for FCB. He definitely does not display the wizardry of Alves at his best, but he is a key component of Everton and when he’s not firing at all cylinders you can see how much it affects the team. He will get to the touchline and only send in crosses when they make sense, and is otherwise a very good decision maker and passer, often cutting back to try to get balls into the box via the ground or to midfielders outside the box better positioned to make the key pass. He is not the world-class athlete that some of these prospects are, but he makes good decisions and is able to track back defensively. He is also entering his prime and is on a club that usually sells when it gets a good offer. He already has done well under Roberto Martinez, who follows a similar style as Barcelona.

  • Nathaniel Clyne – 23 years old – Southampton

Clyne is another young right back who is already getting a lot of attention from very big clubs. He won the Young Player of the Year award in the premier league while at Crystal Palace when he was only 17. Since then he has proven invaluable to a competitive Southampton side, and has played a lot more first team football than his peers, which is stirring notice around Europe. He has not typically been as attacking as someone like Alves, but he has been given more free reign to do so this year because of how much intelligence and awareness he shows in keeping his defensive assignments. He is already a great right back, and could develop to an even better attacker with a squad such as Barcelona.  If Southampton land a Champion’s League spot and can maintain their talented young squad, he may be tougher to pry away.

These are honestly the best I could come up with in this bracket, as it is a very select group in terms of talent and where they are in their career. Some other players fit the profile, but I couldn’t see them at Barcelona:

  • Kyle Walker – 24 years old – Tottenham
  • Rafael – 24 years old – Manchester United
  • Mario Fernandes – 24 years old – CSKA Moscow
  • Gregory van der Wiel – 27 years old – PSG
  • Mauricio Isla – 26 years old – Queens Park Rangers
  • Atsuto Uchida – 26 years old – FC Schalke 04

The next group of right backs would be those more aptly defined as "wonderkids" in that they have shown brilliance in flashes, but are still relatively young and unestablished. This group would work for Barcelona, but it would assume that Dani Alves plays one or two more years, or that Martin Montoya sticks around as a place holder, at least.

  • Calum Chambers – 20 years old – Arsenal

This is the man that Nathaniel Clyne replaced at Southampton. Although he is only 20 and has not established great AND consistent first team play, he is probably the biggest RB prospect under 21 years old. He is tall and athletic, which are good attributes for this position, and he also shows good creativity, pushing up into the midfield depending on injuries. He has, however, recently signed to Arsenal and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.

  • Serge Aurier – 22 years old – PSG

Aurier is a raw but talented prospect. He is getting his first taste of top side football on loan with PSG this year. However, he has been injured as of late. He would be a more cost-effective option, but would require more work as well. Athletically and mentality-wise he would fit.

  • Mattia De Sciglio – 22 years old – AC Milan

De Sciglio is another prospect you hear brought up and is on many team’s radars. However, his stock has dropped some as he has been inconsistent at Milan, yet his asking price is still rather high. He is also probably not too different from Montoya in style and talent level. He is less attack minded and may not fit FCB’s needs.

Other prospects include:

  • Hector Belerin – 20 years old – Arsenal

Aresenal isn’t worrying too much about the future right back. Perhaps Chambers gets the spot and Belerin is allowed to move?

  • Javier Manquillo – 20 years old – Liverpool

One of the best Spanish prospects in the position. The BPL is loaded with right backs, I suppose.

  • Marquinhos – 20 years old – PSG

Not a right back, but one of the highest rated defensive prospects in the world. He has been doing a very good job filling in for Aurier as a right back while he waits for his spot in the center. PSG have valued him to the point where very few clubs would be willing to spend.

And now, finally, the La Masia prospects.

  • Joan Campins – 19 years old

He has not played much and does not look to be in serious consideration for a future first team start.

  • Patric – 21 years old

Patric is currently the B squads starting right back. He has potential, but hasn’t shown the Barcelona level quality consistently. He also plays midfield and is very creative and physically strong.

  • Edgar Ie – 20 years old

Ie is a good prospect that can play on the right, but he is more valuable as a central defender.

So that’s it from me. I would love to hear more thoughts and discussion in the comments, as I know I’ve forgotten a lot here. Any additions or corrections are welcome. As of now, Danilo does look to be the best replacement in terms of talent and playing style, but things could change. Hopefully this gave everyone a better idea of the landscape and potential players to fill-in the right back position, and we’ll just have to sit back and hope the board gets this one right (does Douglas have a twin brother?).

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