Junior Firpo is now officially a Barcelona player after the club announced he has joined them from Real Betis. The left-back was one of the priorities of the summer transfer window, and Barça have got their man just in time for the US tour and the start of the season.
After watching Jordi Alba’s explosive first half of the season result in a new contract and a scary dip in form that ended in disaster at Anfield, it became painfully clear that Alba needed competition for his spot. The 30-year-old was untouchable all season, regardless of form, and the club made sure to give him real problems to keep the position with Junior Firpo joining the ranks.
But here’s a question: is Junior Firpo really going to trouble Alba and win the starting job over him for the most important matches of his first season at the club?
The quick answer for those who don’t want to read this article is “DUH OF COURSE NOT BECAUSE VALVERDE AMIRITE”, and I hear you, but let’s actually talk about it. Did Valverde not bench Alba because he just loves him so much, or because nobody else made sense because the board didn’t sign a left-back and let Lucas Digne leave?
Sure, Digne did leave in part because Valverde didn’t give him enough chances, and Digne is a starter at Everton now, but Everton are a defensive, counter-attacking team that needs Digne’s crossing and tackling more than Barça ever did or ever will. At the end of the day, Digne never earned his place in the starting lineup. To truly take Alba’s place, you can’t have just a capable backup. You need someone who’s better than him.
And no, Junior Firpo is not better than Jordi Alba right now. But he clearly has the potential, something Digne and Adriano before him never had. Those players were what they were, they had no world-class expectations and they just did the job when needed. Firpo will already do the job as a 23-year-old when the season starts, and he can grow into the sort of player that will take over from Alba once Jordi is just not good enough.
Ernesto Valverde knows Junior and wanted him on the team, which means he will get more chances that a normal young backup would. Plus, Firpo played for Quique Setién and just won the under-21 Euros with Spain, which means he has plenty of experience and success playing on a possession-and-press team, which Barça will try to be once again this season.
By the way, saying Jordi Alba is not good enough right now is just unfair. The last impression is bad, yes, but he did play all season as a defender who was the second main option in the attack, and he also knew he’d always play no matter what. The combination of physical fatigue with possible complacency is bound to hurt you, and it did Alba. Now is the best time to judge him, now that he has a real backup who will threaten to take his place if his Liverpool performance is not just the outlier.
The point is: demanding Junior Firpo to become a starter right away is not really ideal. It puts crazy pressure on him from the start and it doesn’t give Alba the chance to prove he’s the better of two really good options. Drawing definitive conclusions after a month of Alba or after Firpo’s debut game, good or bad, is just not smart. Firpo has a five-year contract for a reason, and Alba will be old and slow by then. Surely Junior is taking over at some point, so we should just let him go through the process.