On the back of a 2-8 loss in the Champions League, with a defensive squad of an ageing Gerard Pique, a perpetually injured Samuel Umtiti and an underwhelming Clement Lenglet, Barcelona was doomed for another disastrous defensive season in the 2020/21 season. However, with the rise of Uruguayan wonderkid, Ronald Araujo, Barcelona was able to fortify their defensive line.
The club is undergoing its most significant transitional phase since 2003, with new faces being brought in to rejuvenate the squad. It has been long reported that Barcelona are looking for a new, young centre-back. When the Catalan’s club pursuit for Matthijs de Ligt in 2019 failed, the club decided to postpone bringing in a new centre-back, but the humiliation in Lisbon served as an anchor to the grim reality: Barcelona needs new centre-halves.
French wonderkid, Jules Kounde, is first on the list of numerous European giants. In the summer of 2020, the 22-year-old was linked with a €70 million switch to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, however, that transfer failed to materialise. Ever since, Kounde has been on the radar of several mega-clubs in Europe, with one of them being Barcelona.
But with the rise of Ronald Araujo, is an expensive investment in Jules Kounde really necessary? To solve that puzzle, Barça Universal does an in-depth statistical analysis and comparison between Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde. All the data used in the article is per 90 data, unless specified otherwise.
The ability to tackle is a fundamental ability that all defenders must possess. For many years now, there has been a roaring debate about whether a high number of tackles implies improper positioning, but the truth is that football is not binary. While sometimes an unnecessarily high tackle count might imply poor positioning, a defender’s ability to tackle usually positively correlates to the defender’s ability as a whole.
The following statistical comparison is regarding the number of players tackled by Araujo and Kounde, respectively. The second chart on the same axes portrays the number of dribblers tackled. As seen, Araujo with a tackle rate of 1.54, is a more frequent tackler than Kounde, who has a Tkl of 1.00.
However, Kounde tackles more dribblers than Araujo. This does not necessarily turn the favour of this metric to Kounde’s side. Football is more systemic than ever today, with a heavy emphasis on positional play and crossing, the number of players who are tactically permitted to dribble has decreased.
Managers would prefer the players to progress the ball through passing. Due to these circumstances, it is highly probable that Kounde has faced more players who dribble than Araujo, due to which his numbers in this sector are slightly higher. Additionally, Barcelona deploy a higher backline than Sevilla’s, and the best way to beat a high defensive line is to have your strikers make perfectly timed runs behind the defence so that they can receive the ball through either a through pass or a cross – this is a reason as to why Araujo might not have faced as many dribblers as compared to Kounde.
The number of tackles won is a metric that is slightly different from the number of players tackled. While both are built on the opposition player being tackled, in tackles won, the defender’s team also wins possession of the ball. The following graph presents each player’s number of tackles won as a part of the number of players tackled. While Kounde’s number of tackles won to the number of players tackled ratio is higher, Araujo’s actual number of tackles won is significantly higher than Kounde’s. Araujo triumphs in this category with an impressive 1.15 TklW as compared to Araujo’s 0.72.
A defender’s ability is insignificant if they are unable to make an impact on their team. The reason Virgil van Dijk finished second in the 2019 Ballon d’Or rankings was not because of his unparalleled defensive abilities, but because of the monumental impact, he had on a defensively liable Liverpool team. The following pie charts, present each player’s number of players tackled as a percentage of their respective team’s number of players tackled. Araujo is responsible for an astounding 11.2% of Barcelona’s total tackles, while Kounde is responsible for a respectable 7.04%.
There is a lot more to defending than just tackling. At the end of the day, it is a shot on target that leads to a goal. Blocking a shot can have a direct impact on the game. Blocking is not just limited to shots, but also to passes. Stealing possession from the opposing team is vital for controlling the game, and blocking passes helps with this.
The following mounted bar charts show Araujo and Kounde’s block statistics. Araujo blocks 2.21 shots per 90, while Kounde blocks 1.56 shots per 90. As for the passes, Araujo blocks 1.06 passes per 90 while Kounde blocks 0.83 shots per 90.
Every great manager has placed a heavy emphasis on pressing. Putting pressure on an opposing pressure forces them to make a quick decision, which can often lead to a loss of possession. While all players in a team are required to press, the stake is at an all-time high when defenders are pressing. The defensive line is the last line between the goal and the opposition, and so if a defender’s pressing turns out to be inefficient, they could end up leaving a pocket of space for the opposition to exploit.
Araujo and Kounde are excellent at applying pressure on the opponents. They know when to pursue pressuring the opponent and when to refrain from pressing in order to preserve the defensive structure. Araujo applies pressure 9.71 times per 90, on an opponent who is receiving, carrying or releasing the ball. On the other hand, Kounde applies pressure 6.89 times per 90, for the same circumstances.
Yet another technique that can help rewin possession is interceptions. Intercepting is key when trying to prevent the opposition from progressing the ball towards your goal. One of the bar charts below shows Araujo and Kounde’s total interceptions per 90. Kounde accumulates 1.16 interceptions per 90 while Araujo accumulates 0.87 interceptions per 90.
Clearances refer to when a defender clears the ball away from danger. Nowadays, with the rise of technical football, managers are telling their players to not mindlessly clear the ball so that possession can be maintained. Regardless, clearances are a fundamental part of the game and won’t fade away regardless of how the game evolves tactically. Araujo and Kounde clear the ball 3.65 and 4.17 times per 90, respectively.
The following is a box that displays the distribution of interceptions per 90. Kounde’s interquartile range and range are both considerably higher than Araujo.
La Liga is full of talented defenders. The emphasis placed by La Liga managers on defending is second to none. Some of the best centre-backs of the last decade – Pique, Ramos, Godin, Mascherano, Pepe – were/are all La Liga players. Many times in La Liga are undergoing transitional periods, but the high quality of defenders has persisted.
The following is a scatter plot that pits Araujo and Kounde against other notable centre-backs in La Liga in terms of interceptions (y-axis) and tackles (x-axis). Araujo and Kounde both have impressive placements on the plot.
Araujo is second only to Pique when it cames to tackles per 90. This means that he tackles more players than 90, than some very notable centrebacks like Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Jose Gimenez. On the other hand, Kounde is one of the leaders in interceptions per 90. Only Varane, Jose Gimenez, Sergio Ramos and Felipe accumulate more in that metric. For Kounde to be amongst these seasoned defenders is a testament to his immense ability and talent.
Believe it or not, defence is not the only thing expected from defenders. Football has evolved tremendously, and most teams in the world build from the back. Building from the back, like the name suggests, is essentially commencing the attack from the backline in order to maintain possession.
Traditionally, during a goal kick, keepers would just swing the ball into the final third, but now managers have realised that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding whether the attacker will win the header over the opposing defenders. This is why defenders are expected to be able to pass the ball well. The following chart plots the distribution of each player’s passes completed against the distribution of their pass completion percentage.
As the chart shows, Kounde completes around 60 passes per game while Araujo completes approximately 50 passes per game. Araujo’s pass completion percentage is more precise while Kounde’s is more spread out, however, both of them average a pass completion percentage above 80%.
An excellent metric to determine the impact of passes is to find out the distance the ball progressed towards the opposing goal. This is known as progressive distance. The following chart presents the progressive distance of each player’s passes as a part of the total space of their passes. According to this, Kounde’s progressive distance is more generous than Araujo’s, and his goal against Barcelona stands as proof. However, the statistics used to construct this chart are not per 90, and Kounde has played more games than Araujo.
Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde are splendid defenders with an infinite amount of potential. With Barcelona in a monumental debt, the transfers that are brought in should be of players who are absolutely necessary. In an ideal world, Kounde’s ability on the ball would perfectly complement Araujo’s strength and robust nature. Unfortunately, that looks far from likely. That said, whatever price Sevilla put up on the Frenchman will probably be worth it and paid off in a handful of seasons.
Stats from FBRef
How Joan Laporta swayed the Barcelona presidential elections his way
When the race for the presidency of the United States of America was a source of hot debate earlier in 2020, the New York times referred to Joe Biden as a “lurker”. Michelle Cottle wrote that one should never get in the way of an opponent digging his own grave. The lead-up to Joan Laporta winning the Barcelona presidential elections can be considered astonishingly similar in this regard.
The roots of political campaigns seldom change, be it leading a country or running a football club. To win, a candidate must know when to stay silent, when to object, what to promise, what to say and most importantly, what not to say. Appropriately navigating around all of these nuts and bolts is what constitutes the fundamentals of a successful campaign.
Such has been the case for Joan Laporta, who has run the cleverest campaign on his way to the president’s box of Football Club Barcelona. Bearing a remarkable resemblance to a stealthy predator, Laporta was patient and efficient in lethal measure. He chose his moments just right to get the better of his fellow candidates, playing to all his strengths to win over the socis and their votes.
When Laporta announced his candidacy for the upcoming elections in November, it came as a surprise to no one. Up until then, however, there was only one name on everyone’s lips — Victor Font. With his ‘Si Al Futur’ campaign, Font seemed like the ideal president to free the club from its shackles of mismanagement, financial crises as well as failures on and off the football pitch.
But as the race for club presidency unfolded, Laporta came from behind and navigated through the crests and troughs to slowly get the better of his contemporary. It was almost as if he willingly gave him a head start.
And Toni Freixa? In all honesty, he never stood a chance. After barely crossing the threshold of 2,278 signatures for his candidacy to be valid, he was always just the third party making up the numbers. His sympathies towards Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell were going to be major strikes against his name. Considering the downward trajectory the club has followed the past few years, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out Freixa is the most unsuitable candidate by quite some distance.
Amid Friexa’s rigging of online polls using automated bots, Laporta and Font locked horns in a contest for the presidency. A task that would entail reversing the club’s biggest financial crisis in its 122-year-history, getting their greatest ever player to stay after a near-disastrous end to his time at Barcelona and restore the club’s name to glory after over half a decade of tarnation.
The waning of Victor Font’s promising campaign
Seven years in the plotting, Victor Font had laid out a detailed project, seemingly covering every base from finances, to sporting project, to general management. He had even thought up a few great changes to make to enhance the efficacy of the club’s public ownership model.
Font believed starkly in returning La Masia to its pedestal of prime importance- The youth shaping the future. He advocated for a content-driven business model, an electronic voting system for future elections, and an advisory board of specialists to govern the club so that more members could be involved in the club’s decision-making process.
Then comes the headline of his project — bringing Xavi Hernandez back as manager of the club. The legendary Barcelona midfielder, returning to the dugout, this time as a coach. And back when Xavi just started out his managerial career with Qatari outfit Al-Sadd, he even backed Victor Font, saying that Font was “well prepared and a good candidate.”
Sounds ideal so far. But what went wrong? Amid all of Font’s preparedness, he did not account for possibly his biggest challenge — Joan Laporta. One cannot contest an election without expecting opposition. And when the opposition is as fierce and competent as Laporta, complications are more than obvious.
However, Laporta doesn’t fully come into the picture until much later. Font’s campaign began unravelling slowly but surely due to his own doing. All Laporta had to do was strike when the iron had been heated up for him.
First came his comments on current coach Ronald Koeman. Speaking of the Dutchman, Font said that if he were elected, Koeman would not continue as a coach regardless of his achievements. He faced a fair amount of backlash for these comments, which he later rescinded.
That was the first blemish. It is never a good sign in a campaign when you have to take your word back publicly. What followed was a seemingly flustered attempt to bring his perfect run so far back on track. A string of taunts aimed at Laporta, the over-insistence of Xavi’s involvement in the project, the agreement to postpone the elections and finally the debates drove the final nails into the coffin of what was a very potent campaign.
Font went on the offensive, so far as to say that Joan Laporta has no sporting project. He accused his campaign of being driven by nostalgia. Font stressed that we must look towards the future and the past only serves to teach from the mistakes it holds.
In fact, Font even tweeted his comments on Gerard Pique’s views about members voting for the future, reiterating that the past only serves to learn from mistakes. Pique, however, bluntly asked Font to remove the tweet, wanting nothing to do with the campaign. Font duly obliged, but in hindsight the tweet could be construed as a dig at both Bartomeu and perhaps Laporta.
Pique’s response was another tough pill to swallow. Then came the meeting to postpone the elections in January. At this point, Laporta had well and truly begun implementing his plans, and Font knew that he had stiff competition.
The pandemic has obviously created massive complications, and Font seemed eager to postpone the voting. While his reason that all socis cannot be guaranteed to vote was valid, it was clear that he also needed more time. Laporta had emerged as the favourite and an immediate vote would not have favoured Font. And despite initially pushing for having elections as early as possible, Font had found a way to stall, which once again did not go down well with the fans.
This was then followed by the eventual distancing of Jordi Cruyff and even Xavi himself from Font’s campaign. Jordi Cruyff even said that his father Johan would have himself voted for Laporta. The ultimate dagger that may have tilted the scales for good.
Amid all this chaos, Laporta carefully picked his battles and managed to overpower his opponent. Font has been very unfortunate in many ways, but his lack of experience in a political scenario like this has overshadowed his genuineness and ideologies.
Joan Laporta’s charge to presidency
There was already a lot going on for Joan Laporta as he entered the race for the presidency. After all, being at the helm of Barcelona during its most glorious spell in history has a fair amount of prestige to it. No matter the amount of time that passed, those times will always be looked upon with incredible fondness.
With the unfurling of his banner a mere 100 yards from the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Laporta made his presence officially felt. “Looking forward to seeing you again”, read the massive banner sending a message to both Barcelona as well as Real Madrid fans.
The first power move of many that helped him leapfrog Victor Font. From competitor to overwhelming favourite, Laporta has provided the perfect example of an ideal campaign. He stayed quiet while Font was the architect of his downfall. But when the time came, he struck just the right chords.
The manner in which Laporta spoke throughout his running was noteworthy. He had the confidence and just the right amount of arrogance in his statements. Laporta knew full well that he is backed by his immensely successful past. His pre-existing relationship with the players, club legends, and superagents in world football were all great weapons to support his candidacy.
He chose to retaliate against Font in very carefully selected moments. He chose to respond to Font’s comments about Koeman separately. He never addressed them directly, but he said he would honour Koeman’s contract and commitment to the club, which was the best answer. That provided the first distinction between the candidates.
During the presidential debates though, is when Laporta took the strongest stance.
“You must have worked a lot with Xavi, Jordi Cruyff and Benaiges, but they have all denied you. You have made a lot of corrections, you have had a lot of denials. Xavi, Xavi, Xavi, Xavi. You keep repeating that. Either you don’t know the reality of Barça or you don’t know these people. You will have worked with them, but they have denied you.”Laporta to Font during the first debate
Laporta reproached Font’s approach to the elections, which seemed to fully hinge on Xavi’s approval and arrival. He then pointed out that Font spent the final months of the campaign just rectifying the mistakes he made.
He was also quick to point out that when he was in charge of the club, eternal rivals Real Madrid did not win a single Champions League title. And in addition, he did not understate his influence among the players.
“One thing is clear: Messi wants to stay and we must make him stay. It is clear that if any of my rivals wins, it will be very difficult for him to stay. He knows me, and that I do what I say. What he wants is someone who appreciates him and he knows I work like this.”Laporta in the final presidential debate
He was also subtle but assertive in his comments about future signings for the club. Laporta said that he is in close contact with many superagents and that with him, Barcelona are capable of attracting any of the biggest superstars in the world.
Every time he spoke, it was as if he knew he had the votes in the bag. A sense of assurance always surrounds him. Even before it was official, he inspired confidence and trust. And somehow, it always felt like there was no better person to convince Lionel Messi to stay at Barcelona. Even though the Argentine’s departure seemed and perhaps still is set in stone. But with Laporta, there is optimism, even though it may be blind.
Laporta has played all his pieces to perfection, drawing out errors and capitalizing on them, much like Barcelona used to do to their adversaries when he was formerly in charge from 2003-2011. He capped off the final debate by saying:
“I showed up because I love Barça. We have to return joy to the Catalans. I know how to do it. Being President was an honour, and being President again will be the biggest challenge of my life.”
Times have drastically changed since then, however. He is now at the helm of a very different club than the one he left behind a decade ago. He has a whole host of challenges to overcome, with severely limited resources to do so. But again, when he took over back in March of 2003, the club were on the brink of relegation after years of mismanagement by Joan Gaspart.
A situation similar in many ways to the one Barcelona are in right now. A fresh-faced Joan Laporta, with the endorsement of Johan Cruyff back then, took charge with over 52% of the votes. The rest is history.