Arda Turan arrived to much fanfare at the beginning of last season for an eye watering sum of 34 million euros (rising to 41 million euros). He was supposed to be the man to take Barcelona’s midfield to the next level a la Ivan Rakitic who had arrived the year before and quickly become a fan favorite with his hard work and rocket shot from outside the box. Instead, following 4 month wait while Barcelona’s transfer ban expired Arda was pretty disappointing last season. He ended the season as a substitute and following a woeful performance at the European Championships he was not given any additional time off by coach Luis Enrique who cracked the whip trying to get him back into his best form. He started brightly enough with a stunning strike however since then he has been turnover prone and out of step with the rest of the team. His poor back pass led to the opening goal today and in general nothing went his way. With Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic, Andre Gomes, Rafinha, Denis Suarez, Sergi Roberto and Sergi Samper fighting for the two central midfield spots and the likes of Wilfried Kaptoum and Carles Alena waiting patiently in the wings, Arda Turan is the odd man out. He has already been linked with several moves away and following his performances this preseason its hard to argue against letting him go.
2. Barcelona Need to Replace Dani Alves
Last summer Barcelona signed Aleix Vidal with the intention of having a ready made replacement for Dani Alves when he eventually left the Camp Nou. Unfortunately he never really settled into the role under Luis Enrique and found himself outside of the squad on many occasions. At the start of this season he admitted he may not have been giving his all in training leaving the coach upset with the effort he was putting in. Fast forward to the new preseason and he has not at all looked confident in the right back position. He has shown a lot going forward, but the defensive side of his game is bad. Many times during this game he was caught out of position or disposed up-field leaving his teammates a man short at the back trying to make for his absence. The Barcelona board have declared that they are attempting to sign a backup striker as the final piece to the puzzle and are not interested in a right back but from the evidence of this game there is a desperate need to get an actual defender in at right back as opposed to converted wingers and midfielders.
3. Who will be Barcelona’s Henrik Larsson
One of the questions coming out of this game was who can be the player that can come off the bench and change a game for Barcelona. Get a goal or unlock a defence to turn around a game. Nobody seemed capable in this game and it is a question that will need to be answered moving forward. Denis Suarez may be capable of filling that role this season or the new striker that they board are hoping to sign could be the one, or Rafinha may take another step forward and be able to fill it. What is for certain was that at halftime trailing 1-0 there did not seem to be much on the bench able to make that difference.
Much of this off-season has focused on Barcelona finding a backup striker for the Messi, Neymar Suarez trident upfront with the problem being that many strikers would not like to compete for playing time with possibly the greatest forward line in history. Munir however has been quietly proving in the pre-season games thus far that perhaps the solution to the backup striker position is already at Barca. With 2 goals against the English Champions, both of them fine finishes from runs onto through balls, to follow his strike against Celtic last Saturday, Munir seems to finally be living up to the potential that so excited Barca fans.
2. Marlon continues to impress
The center back on loan from Fluminese continued to demonstrate great poise and reading of the game during this clash. With Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu both being linked with moves away from Barca and Marc Bartra having joined Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona could start the season with only 3 first team center backs in Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Samuel Umtiti. From the looks of things however Marlon looks to be able to make the leap to the first team if needed.
3. The Right Back position remains a worry
Aleix Vidal started his second game running and once again he did his best Dani Alves impression. Pretty decent going forward but exposed at the back. On more than one occasion he was caught out by the Leicester City player bombing down their left hand side of attack and he was very lucky that Barcelona did not concede from one of these raids. At the start of the second half Sergi Roberto was moved to that position with Vidal subbed off to little effect. Roberto was badly beaten for pace on the first Leicester City goal and while he had a couple of crucial interceptions his best position is clearly in the middle of the park. Against higher quality opposition like Real Madrid (Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale) Bayern Munich (Ribery, Robben and Douglas Costa) and Manchester City (Sane, Nolito and Gabriel Jesus) that right back position could be a weak point to be exploited.
Pedro Rodriguez stated in a recent interview that he would not turn down the opportunity to return to Barcelona should the chance be given. The man of whom who Pep Guardiola once stated “If Pedro was Brazilian he’d be called Pedrinho,and we wouldn’t have the money to sign him.” seems to be looking wistfully towards the club of his life for a return. In an interview on June 16, 2016 Pedro indicated a desire to return:
“I hope so,” Pedro told beIN Sports when asked if he would like to go back to Barcelona.
“I know it is difficult. I spoke with the president [Josep Maria Bartomeu] when we saw each other at the Copa del Rey final and I also spoke with all my friends there.
“It is complicated, but I have always said that I would have liked to retire at Barça. I know it is difficult as the years go by and Barca have the best players in the world. It is a very demanding club. To return is difficult, but I would not rule it out.
“I spent 11 or 12 years in Barcelona, my family is from there and also many friends.
“The fans loved me a lot, I felt very valued by the club, and it is always difficult to leave the club of your dreams. In the end I had to take the decision as I could see that my chances were running out.”
In an interview a couple days later on June 20, 2016 he followed up stating:
“If you ask me if I’d go back, the answer is clear because they’re a great club with great players and fans who appreciate me,” the Spain attacker told RAC1. “I’ve always said that I’d like to retire at Barca, but I know it’s very difficult, almost impossible.
“Admittedly it seemed like I was going back this summer, but I have a contract with Chelsea, I’ve only been there for a year and it’d be very difficult for [a return] to happen.”
Asked why he spoke to Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu during last month’s Copa del Rey final, Pedro replied: “We talked about the team, not me. When I left, he told me that the doors of the club would always be open, and I said that was very important for me because [Barca] are a club that I can feel. It’s where I grew up and was happy.”
Pedro has grown up at Barcelona in front of many of our very own eyes. He has been there to witness some of the biggest moments in the clubs history during his time with the first team and has managed to score against some of the biggest clubs on the very biggest stages. He is a World Cup winner, a European champion and still in his prime. So should Barca make a move to bring back Pedro? He knows the system, he is admittedly humble and he always seems to have a knack to turn up with crucial goals in big games. Here are five reasons he should not:
1. Pedrito Became Pedro
When he first joined the first team on a full time basis during the 2009 – 2010 Pedro was known as Pedrito. During his first two seasons he scored 23 goals and 22 goals including memorable efforts against Real Madrid, Internazionale, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk and Estudiantes. However as time passed the timely interventions dried up and despite putting the likes of Henry, Ibrahimovic, Bojan and Villa out to pasture, Pedrito found himself constantly have to prove himself with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Neymar and Luis Suarez being bought in. The goals that once flowed freely against big teams no longer came as playing time became limited and Pedrito the man who was once described as having a flower in his bum by Victor Valdes (Rectal foliage is a Spanish way of saying he’s lucky) became Pedro. Since 2011 he has crossed 13 goals in a season just once and never scored 20 goals in a season again. At 28 he doesn’t seem likely to rediscover the scoring touch that once made him so deadly and what’s more his best goal scoring form seems to be when he starts and gets ample playing time as opposed to coming off the bench as would be required.
Table1: Pedro’s Career Games and Goals
2. Munir Deserves His Chance
Munir el Haddadi has been one of the brightest prospects in the Barcelona youth system since he did this in the Youth Champions League final in 2014. After a rocky start to life with the first team where he struggled to score and even looked a bit lost, Munir has adapted well this season even finishing joint top scorer in the copa del rey and finishing the season with a creditable 9 goals in 42 games including this crucial strike away to Malaga with Neymar unavailable. Munir continues to grow and should be given the opportunity to back up “MSN” as he has been patient and waited his turn patiently. At age 21 this may be the season where he really explodes. Having Pedro back may block his development.
3. Nothing Has Changed
At the center of Pedro’s decision to leave Barcelona was his frustration at the lack of playing time. Since he has left Messi, Neymar and Suarez have continued on their merry way banging in the goals for fun. Should he return he would return to much the same situation that he left. He would undoubtedly not be able to force his way into the first team ahead of the greatest attacking trident ever seen in the club’s history and he certainly would not be satisfied playing 15-20 minutes off the bench for most of the season. A younger player like Munir or an older player in the Henrik Larsson role would be more suited to backing up MSN. Given his latest outburst during the European Championships with the Spanish National team where Pedro declared:
“It is difficult for me to play this role [as a substitute], and if there is no continuity it is not worth me turning up just to be part of the group”
it is hard to see how he would accept the same role at Barcelona.
4. He would Not Come Cheap
Chelsea paid 30 million euros for Pedro just a season ago. Despite his struggles with form he remains in the Spanish National team and a highly rated forward in Europe. It’s hard to envision Chelsea allowing him to return to Barcelona on the cheap just a year after splashing that type of cash on him. They would most likely want to recover a high percentage if not all of the funds spent to conduct their own squad overhaul under new coach Antonio Conte. Given Barcelona’s other squad needs (signing a new right back and centre back and possibly a backup left back) it is difficult to justify that sort of outlay on a player who forced his way out of the club 12 months ago.
5. You Can’t Go Home Again
Barcelona’s track record with paying big money for youth team products has not worked out well recently. Cesc Fabregas was repurchased from Arsenal for 35 million pounds in 2011 and despite some success, he never really fit in before forcing a move to Chelsea for 30 million pounds in 2014. Current Barcelona B Manager Gerard Lopez left the club for Valencia in 1997 becoming one of the finest midfielders in Spain and helping Los Che reach the Champions League final in 2000 before rejoining Barcelona for 22 million euros.He spent five injury plagued seasons playing just 91 games before leaving for Monaco on a free transfer in 2005. More recently at the start of last season Aleix Vidal was purchased for 18 million euros from Sevilla having left Barcelona in 2002. He fell out of favor with the coach and played in just 9 La Liga games and no Champions League games and has been linked with a move to AC Milan. Perhaps the most successful big money return to the club has been Jordi Alba who rejoined Barcelona for 14 million euros from Valencia in 2012 having left the club in 2005. The history of players rejoining Barcelona has not gone well and the club should take note. A return for Pedro will probably end the same way. Sadly for the man from canary islands is true: You can’t go home again.
Before I go into the discussion, let me make it quite clear that I think Javier Mascherano is one of the finest players Barcelona has had over the past few seasons and without him the club certainly would not have won either the 2011 Champions League final and several other titles. We all remember this tackle on Nicklas Bendtner in the dying minutes of the match. Had Bendtner scored Barcelona would have gone out of the Champions League in the round of 16. Barca never looked back from that moment going to win the hotly contested semi final with Real Madrid with the famous “Puto Amo” and “Por Que” speeches by the coaches before outclassing Manchester United 3-1 in the final.
So why on earth should Barcelona consider selling a defensive rock and a man who has come to define the heart and soul of the back-line since the legendary Carles Puyol left?
1. The Player wants to Leave
Over the past few weeks it has become pretty apparent that Javier Mascherano has become unsettled at Barcelona. For whatever reason be in dressing room issues or the weight of carrying the responsibility for the Barcelona back line almost single-handedly at times, Mascherano has become unsettled. A player that is fully happy does not reportedly agree to terms with other clubs. There is always a gamble in keeping a player that is not fully focused or one that does not want to be in his current situation. Many people may say that as a multimillionaire paid to play football, once he is on the field he will give his best, however players are only human. Their emotions and mental state do play a role in how they perform and it is much better to have players that want to play at the club than those whose hearts just are not in it anymore.
2. The Ronaldinho/Vieira/Villa precident
Barcelona have always had a habit of buying high and selling low. Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta declared in his book “Un sueño para mis hijos” [A Dream for My Children]. that in 2004 his successor Sandro Rosell had approached him with a 100 million Euro offer from Chelsea for the Brazilian. The offer of course would be rejected and Barcelona went on to win 2 league titles and a Champions League title with Ronaldinho (24 at the time of the offer) at the forefront. Ronaldinho however underwent a major decline in the 2 following seasons and ended up being sold to AC Milan in 2008 for 24 million Euros or just under a quarter of what he was worth just a few years earlier. Perhaps a more similar example to the current situation however is that of Patrick Vieira. In 2004, Patrick Vieira (28 at the time) made up his mind to leave Arsenal and according to the Guardian newspaper a deal of around 30 million pounds from Real Madrid was on the table. The deal fell through at the last minute however Vieira ended up staying. At the end of the same season in 2005 Arsenal decided the Vieira era at the club was at an end and agreed to sell him, however they received only 13.75 million pounds in the deal from Juventus. Javier Mascherano is 32 years old and there is a very real likelihood that if Barcelona do not sell this summer they will not receive anything near to decent value should he leave the club. Everyone remembers the frustration felt with David Villa who was sold to Atletico Madrid for just 2.1 million euros (plus add-ons) after having an offer reportedly worth 12 million euros just 6 months earlier; nobody would like a repeat of such a case.
3.The Samper Case
Javier Mascherano has been used as a centre-back at Barcelona but he also provides cover should anything happen to Sergi Busquets who is the first choice at defensive midfield. With Sergi Samper coming through however Barcelona have a ready made replacement for Sergi Busquets as a defensive midfielder. What’s more with Barcelona linked to Samuel Umtiti in recent weeks, and Marquinos also being mentioned as an addition, the need for Mascherano to get minutes possibly in the defensive midfield position could actually limit the development of Samper for the coming season. With the “Pirlo” of the Cantera long being tipped for greatness and Arsenal lurking, it may be in Barcelona’s long term interest to ensure that he has more time with the first team this season. Should Mascherano stay and Marquinos and Umtiti join, the coach would be under real pressure to find minutes on the pitch for Mascherano which would most likely result in Samper not playing time.
4. Pique has matured
Gerard Pique has always been touted as the future leader of the Barcelona back line since his return in 2008. However after initially cementing his status as one of the better centre-backs in the world during the peak of the Guardiola years, Pique suffered a slump in form and appeared at times to be unfit and uncommitted to the cause. Even during the start of the Luis Enrique era in the 2014/2015 season he was not an undisputed starter,being a substitute in 3 of the first 6 matches. However Pique has demonstrated during the past 2 years that he is indeed back to the top of his game. One needs look no further the 2016 Copa del Rey final (where he marshaled the back line magnificently after Mascherano was sent off) to see that Barcelona can rest easy knowing that Pique will be the leader of their defence should Mascherano exit.
5. Mascherano has earned the right to choose his exit
Mascherano has given his heart and soul for FC Barcelona over the past 6 seasons being critical to 4 league titles, 3 Copa del Rey titles and 2 Champions League titles. He has run himself into the ground every season and given his all, at times holding a shaky back line together almost by himself. He has been a leader and a legend and if he comes to the club and requests to leave, the club should grant this magnificent servant a chance to leave on his terms through “the front door”. Just as David Villa was sold to allow him to get more playing time, Barcelona should take the player’s behavior and his excellent play into account should he want to leave and try to accommodate as best as possible.