When Philippe Coutinho put pen to paper on a lucrative five-and-a-half-year deal with Barcelona on January 6th, it made headlines worldwide.
With an initial fee of just over $150 million, followed by over $50 million in variables, it’s easy to see why the signing of a relatively unknown 23-year-old Colombian defender from Palmeiras for $15 million five days later didn’t make much of an impact.
It wasn’t only the fee that relegated Yerry Mina to the role of bystander in the January transfer carnival that Barcelona fans were enjoying; it was also his position on the field.
Yerry Mina is a central defender, and for the most part, Barcelona is a club who don’t do defenders.
When you think of Barça today, you think of Messi, Suárez, Iniesta, Coutinho, and other players who provide the breathtaking moments of magic that the club is famous for.
With the exception of Gerard Piqué and the now-retired legend Carles Puyol, the central defenders at the club are and have been, for the most part, an afterthought. Which is a shame, as it’s not a reflection on them as players, it’s just that Barcelona is more well known for their attacking prowess.
Over the past four or five seasons, we’ve seen the likes of Jérémy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen signed as recognized central defenders.
It’s safe to say that neither made much of an impact, with Vermaelen spending most of the past three years injured or out of favor and Mathieu now plying his trade for Sporting Lisbon in the Portuguese Primeira Liga.
Until recently the recognized central defensive partnership at Barça consisted of Piqué and converted midfielder Javier Mascherano.
We have seen Samuel Umtiti step up and make the position his own in recent times, which has prompted El Jefecito to seek a new challenge in China..
But is Umtiti the answer long-term? Rumours are rife that English giants Manchester City are looking to tempt him to the Premier League, and after initial contact with Pep Guardiola’s team, Umtiti was reported to have asked for time to consider such a move.
That he hasn’t closed the door entirely on the idea, and his relatively low buyout clause of €50 million his future is far from certain. By signing a new contract before the summer he could put a lot of these rumors to bed.
It’s not all doom and gloom at the Nou Camp though, as the club have seemingly recognized the lack of depth on the backline and moved to remedy the situation.
Step forward, Yerry Mina.
Although a bit of an afterthought as the club signed Coutinho, those who know the game are seemingly enthusiastic to see how the 6’5 Mina fares at Barça, with many claiming him to be “the real deal.”
From what I’ve seen thus far (which admittedly isn’t as much as some who follow the Brazilian league more closely) there is reason for fans of the Blaugrana to be optimistic.
Mina looks every inch the prototype of what you’d want a Barça defender to be.
He is fast, being able to recover ground quickly when required and make that last-ditch tackle to prevent the opposition getting a shot on goal.
He’s also excellent in the air, as you would expect from a player who stands 6’5, and the threat he carries at set pieces sees him get his fair share of goals.
What may surprise many is his ability with the ball at his feet. He is skilful and looks very comfortable bringing the ball into midfield and assisting in launching an attack.
To effectively play in the Barcelona side takes a certain quality, which most soccer players simply don’t have. The number of central defenders that I have seen over the past few years that I think would fit with the Barça way of playing the game is few and far between.
Virgil Van Dijk, who recently moved to Liverpool for over $100 million is one such player, and someone I would have loved to see at the Nou Camp.
And while Yerry Mina certainly wouldn’t have been a player that I would have earmarked for such a move six months ago, having taken the time to look at what he has to offer I think he can succeed where many before him have failed. He seems to have the qualities required.
The defensive issues at Barcelona have been well documented for the better part of a decade now, and with Gerard Piqué having just turned 31 years old it could be said that his days at the top of his game are numbered, despite signing a new contract with the club.
Now, more than ever, the club need to get on top of the issues at central defense, and hopefully, the little-known signing from Palmeiras can steal some of that spotlight from Coutinho and make a name for himself over the next few years.
He looks as though he has the qualities required, but playing for a club as big as Barcelona isn’t easy. It takes an incredible amount of mental strength.
Welcome to Barça, Yerry Mina. And good luck.