Barça Universal takes a look at three players Barcelona must offload in the winter transfer window in an attempt to make space for other signings.
Life under Ronald Koeman looks far from perfect at this point. He is still adamant on using his 4-2-3-1, which works sometimes, and not in other situations; the inclusion of Pedri and Ansu Fati has been encouraging, but he sends a completely different message with Riqui Puig and Carles Aleña.
Some of the problems at the club can be boiled down to tactical rigidity, while others are simply a case of a lack of personnel. For eg: Barcelona have four centre-backs, of which only two are currently fit. Moreover, the lack of a natural striker is visible, especially in games like Deportivo Alaves or Getafe, where the likes of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann can only do so much.
Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia have been on Barcelona’s wishlist for a while now. (Photo via Getty and Imago respectively)
Well, truth be told, neither of them is tailor-made for the club, not even Garcia who spent a majority of his life at La Masia. There are tactical twitches that Koeman may be forced to implement, and some difficult decisions he may have to take, in terms of who starts and who sits on the bench.
In both a propitious and ill-fated sense of nature, those might not be the biggest problems for Barcelona with the two players. The most magnanimous intricacy, in fact, is the financial situation at the club — what a shocker.
Barcelona must offload players in order to afford the duo — both of whom are expected to cost in the range of €10-15 million each. While reports of Ousmane Dembele leaving have hit the mud, Barça Universal suggests three players that the club should offload to pave the way for Garcia and Depay – and hopefully others.
1. Samuel Umtiti
At this point, talking about Samuel Umtiti seems like banging your head on the wall. Where to start, and where to end?
The French centre-back started life in fairy-tale fashion at Barça and quickly took over Javier Mascherano’s spot in the team. In fact, over the next two seasons, his growth was meteoric, ending the 2017/18 season as one of the best in the world in his position.
During the course of the season, though, Umtiti suffered a knee injury against Celta Vigo, which ruled him for several weeks. An operation would help him recover completely, but it would also hamper his chances of playing in the World Cup that summer. In hindsight, his decision to not get operated turned to be fruitful, as he lifted the World Cup with France.
Umtiti’s personal ambitions to win the World Cup paid off, limping his club career in the process. (Photo via Imago)
That knee, however, would go on to become the root of all of Umtiti’s troubles. Not only did he lose his place in the team to Clement Lenglet, his performances – the few of them, anyway – caused fans to lose faith in him.
Sure, he is making a recovery now, but is barely recognised by Ronald Koeman as part of the squad, and is below Ronald Araujo in the pecking order. The Frenchman wants to stay at Barça and fight for his place, but when and if Eric Garcia arrives, any hopes of him staying a fourth-choice will vanish, as well.
On ability alone, Umtiti is worth no less than €50 million. However, pertaining to his injury record, the club might have to accept a measly amount for him, and even that is generous. If push comes to shove, do not be surprised if the club terminates his contract to open room in the wage-bill.
Possible destinations: Olympique Lyonnais, Arsenal, Fiorentina, Paris Saint-Germain
2. Martin Braithwaite
Nobody, included Martin Braithwaite probably expected him to come to Barcelona and become a starter over the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi, or even Ousmane Dembele. He arrived as an emergency signing and has been used as a souvenir of the same.
His problems multiplied this season when Fransisco Trincao was signed and Ansu Fati was given a first-team number. The Dane has made no more than four appearances this season, clocking in a grand total of 44 minutes. In his less than 45 minutes of game time, Braithwaite has touched the ball a mere four times in total, which is less than ideal to say the very least.
There is only so much that can be said in defence of Martin Braithwaite. (Photo via Imago)
He might be given an extended run in the team following Fati’s injury, but Koeman clearly prefers having Memphis Depay among his ranks, and his ideas have been bolstered now more than ever. Moreover, reports suggest that the Dutchman is looking to give Konrad de la Fuente his breakout start in light of the injury.
Braithwaite is still 29, in peak fitness, and can quite comfortably contend for a spot for more mid-table clubs across the top four leagues, while fetching an easy €10-15 million for the club. His exit alone, in fact, can sponsor Depay’s transfer.
Possible destinations: West Ham, Real Betis, Crystal Palace, Lazio
Woah there. One mistake and the fanbase is ready to ship him? Well, of course not. Neto is a fantastic goalkeeper who made for a more-than-able deputy while Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was injured. His errors against Real Madrid and Deportivo Alaves, while costly, do not mean an awful lot for him in the grand scheme of things.
That said, however, like Jasper Cillessen, Neto is good enough to warrant a starting spot at many clubs across Europe. Not only is he a brilliant shot-stopper, but the Brazilian is an able passer. He averaged a passing accuracy of 86% in his six starts in the league.
At his best, the former Valencia shot-stopper made six saves against Madrid, including a sensational double save to consecutive Toni Kroos attempts. That performance has been one of the best Spain has seen this season.
Neto is fantastic; but could be sacrificed to road more transfers. (Photo via Imago)
While he has been great, his departure will not be significant enough to leave a gaping void. Inaki Peña and even Aranau Tenas – two La Masia stars are ready to take the wheel as backups, filling in for Ter Stegen in cup games, or when he is injured.
At 31, Neto probably has four more seasons left under his belt before he can call his time with the sport. His age and experience with top clubs like Barcelona, Juventus, and Valencia should help him leave for a respectful €8-10 million.
Possible Destinations: Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Real Sociedad
Barcelona and the Georginio Wijnaldum affair
Georginio “Gini” Wijnaldum has been at the heart of Liverpool’s robust, hard-working midfield for the past five seasons. He’s a player Culés know all too well, as he scored two goals in two minutes to help lift Liverpool past Barcelona in the 2018/19 Champions League semi-finals.
Wijnaldum is an impending free agent this summer and has been linked with Barcelona ever since Ronald Koeman took over in the fall. Koeman coached him with the Dutch national team and has a real affinity for the player, even coming out in interviews claiming he was on his “transfer list”.
Barça are in a tough situation as they need to revamp their squad but lack the proper funds to do so. Wijnaldum could potentially be signed for free in the summer, but should Barça pursue him?
Wijnaldum rose through the ranks of the Feyenoord youth system before making his senior club debut at 16 years-old in 2007. In fact, he is the youngest debutant in the Dutch club’s history. He made 135 appearances with his boyhood club and won the Dutch Cup in 2008. Wijnaldum then had spells with PSV Eindhoven and Newcastle United before signing with Liverpool in 2016.
With Liverpool, Wijnaldum has won practically every trophy possible, from the Champions League in 2019 to the Premier League in 2020. He has made over 212 appearances for The Reds and is a staple in their midfield. Under manager Jürgen Klopp, he’s made a name for himself as a midfield engine, one whose high energy and pressing gives the team defensive stability as well as a quick outlet for transitional play.
Playing alongside Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Naby Keita in a midfield three, his work rate allows Liverpool to dominate opposing teams. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. Against Barcelona in 2019, he played as a centre forward, and he’s even played matches at centre back.
The 30-year old is capable of fulfilling various roles in the middle of the park. In the early stages of his career with Feyenoord and PSV, he played as an advanced midfielder, a number ten, and even on both wings. To showcase his attacking prowess, he had seasons of 14, 15, and 16 goal hauls in 2010/11, 2012/13, and 2014/15 respectively. His roles during his one-season stint with Newcastle were varied, and he was impressively their leading goalscorer (11) in the Premier League that season (2015/16).
Wijnaldum is also a key squad member for the Dutch National team. He made his debut in September of 2011 and has made 70 appearances ever since. He often plays as an advanced midfielder and has scored 21 goals for the Oranje. Looking at the heap map below, it’s clear to see the different roles he fulfills for his club side and national team.
Wijnaldum is an extremely hard-worker on the pitch. Defensively, he’s nearly impossible to shake off with his physicality and positioning. Offensively, he’s press-resistant, efficient with his passing and has a knack for scoring goals. Once again, he’s not asked to do much on the creative-end for Liverpool, but his time in the Netherlands and with the national team proves he’s more than capable of fulfilling those duties.
Last season, he averaged 45.9 passes per game with a completion rate of 90.4%, 9.10 made passes while under pressure from opponents, and 1.69 tackles plus interceptions per game. This season, he is one of the squad leaders for Liverpool in terms of most passes made while under pressure (7.51). In the Premier League this season, he is winning 2.4 of his ground duels per game.
His averages of only 0.08 goal-creating actions per 90 minutes and 0.15 goal contributions per game last season may indicate a lack of creativity, but that’s only due to his positioning and tactical instructions from Klopp. For the Dutch National team, in which he plays in a more advanced position, he has tallied a staggering 11 goals and four assists in 17 appearances since 2019. That’s a rate of 0.88 goal contributions per game, albeit at a smaller sample size.
Where would he fit in at Barça?
Evidently, Wijnaldum is one of the most versatile players in the world. He does a little bit of everything and as such, could potentially fill a variety of roles for Barça.
In Koeman’s 4-2-3-1, Wijnaldum can play in the double pivot or even the number ten role. There, Winjaldum’s high energy and defensive work rate could cover a more attack-minded player, like Frenkie De Jong. Koeman has recently reverted to Barça’s typical 4-3-3, however, the 2014-2015 Netherlands Footballer of the Year can play in any of the three midfield positions. He’s had some experience as a number 6, playing in front of the defence and anchoring the midfield, but his box-to-box capabilities would best serve the team if he played as an “interior”, one of the two central midfielders.
Barça fans have often clamoured for a workhorse in the midfield, someone who will do the team’s dirty work night in and night out. This player’s defensive work rate would counterbalance the more attack-oriented and free-roaming midfielders. Arturo Vidal filled this role for a season or two and Ivan Rakitic to a different degree before him. Wijnaldum could play this part admirably for the Blaugrana, just as he currently does for Liverpool.
It’s easy to see why Koeman wants to sign him. The question is, should Barcelona move ahead with it?
Although there are many arguments in favour of signing Wijnaldum, particularly regarding his versatility and box-to-box acumen, there are equally as many against it.
To start, he is already 30-years old and would be 31 by the start of next season. While he is still performing at a high level and not showing signs of slowing down, signing him would put the club in an awkward place. His salary demands are reportedly why he wants to leave Liverpool, and the Catalans should be hesitant before signing him to a potentially long-term, high salary deal. He could easily end up in Arturo Vidal’s situation, where the club signed him at 31-years old and after a season and a half, decided to offload him for free.
Furthermore, because Barcelona are in dire straits financially, they need to spend what little money they have wisely. Squad building should be focused on long-term replacements for key positions such as left-back, centre forward, and defensive mid. Wijnaldum would be a complimentary piece, and while he could be a solid temporary fix, Barça require core pieces.
His addition would also crowd the Blaugrana’s jam-packed midfield, not to mention take minutes away from their various “gems.” To fill the three centre-mid positions, Barcelona have Sergio Busquets, Frenkie De Jong, Pedri, Riqui Puig, Miralem Pjanić, the up-and-coming Ilaix Moriba (set to make his debut this Friday in the Spanish Cup), and even Sergi Roberto or Philippe Coutinho once they return from injury.
As mentioned, some fans would want him because of his work rate and tireless effort on the defensive end, but the squad’s defensive issues won’t disappear because of one hard-working player.
In years past, a signing like Wijnaldum would make perfect sense. He would have been younger and could fill a long-term need as a versatile squad piece, but Barcelona are now in a different place both on and off-the-pitch. It can be frustrating for culés to hear the age-old arguments about how their club is struggling financially. Still, the reality is that Barça must now be extremely diligent and effective with their signings, focusing instead on finding long-term replacements in key positions. Wijaldum could be a solid addition, but he is not a player the club absolutely needs.