With the official announcements of Sergio Agüero, Eric Garcia, and Emerson Royal, not to mention the potential signings of Gini Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, Barcelona’s busy transfer window is just getting started. And in many ways, it’s a promising start. Four of the five (potential) new faces are free agents, representing a much-needed economical approach. If all goes according to plan, the Catalans would have paid only €9 million in transfer fees – the amount required to pry Emerson from Real Betis – for five players.
Despite these hopeful signings, however, the work is still far from over. To truly replenish the squad, there will have to be departures, additional signings, and some promotions. Things won’t be easy with the club’s notorious financial plight or breadth of players on high wages. Hopefully, president Joan Laporta and his team have enough tricks up their sleeves.
There are plenty of questions surrounding Barcelona’s summer transfer window. Who should they look to sell? Who should they target? What positions need the most attention? Some answers are clear as day, while others require more consideration. With these questions in mind, let’s explore Barça’s transfer window strategy.
As of the beginning of June, the Catalans have welcomed Agüero, Garcia, and Emerson, while official confirmation of Wijnaldum and Depay still await. In all, they represent a diverse group in terms of positions, squad building, and playing time. Furthermore, the moves will have consequences on the rest of Barça’s transfer window.
Agüero and Depay will shore up the front line, with the former being a short-term fix. The Argentine will likely have a rotational role in the squad, potentially taking on the guise of a “super-sub.” Admittedly, Depay’s signing has yet to be confirmed, but the Blaugrana lead the race for him.
The two forwards’ signings likely mean that Barça will prolong looking for a long-term number 9 until next summer when Erling Haaland’s reported release clause kicks in. Similarly, ties to targets like Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isaak are thrown out of the window – for now.
Liverpool’s Wijnaldum, widely applauded for his versatility, will be a staple in the midfield for a reported three seasons. The move is particularly divisive amongst culés, but having another solid rotation piece is never a bad thing. Additionally, the 30-year old offers a different dimension with his defensive stability, physicality, and attacking prowess when played in the right position. The team could also use more experience in the middle of the park, especially as Miralem Pjanic has seldom played this season.
Champions League runner-up Eric García is a welcomed addition at centre-back. The 20-year old is returning to Barcelona after spending four years at Manchester City and is a long-term, high-potential prospect. That said, his arrival does not alleviate the team’s need for a world-class centre-back.
Bringing in Emerson will help solidify the team’s shaky defence, and he will provide healthy competition for Sergiño Dest at right-back. It also means that Sergi Roberto’s status at the club is under scrutiny, with Manchester City linked to the Spaniard.
It’s surprising to think that Barcelona is still in the market for players despite all these moves, although that just speaks to the scope of the team’s issues. Keeping these reinforcements in mind, who should the club look to offload?
Laporta and his team have done wonders by signing multiple free agents, but now they have to gather some cold hard cash to continue this overhaul and keep the club afloat financially. Still, asking a player to leave Barcelona is never easy, especially when they have to move on from their bumper contracts given by Josep Bartomeu – think Luis Suarez and Arthur Melo last summer. Ideally, situations like that are now in the rearview mirror.
Starting from the backline and working our way up the field, let’s take a look at potential departures –whether inevitable, reported, or sensible.
In goal, Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s starting spot is undoubtedly safe, despite certain reports linking him with a move out in place of AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma. Even if the Catalans do somehow sign the young Italian, the German shot-stopper will still be the first-choice keeper, regardless of a dip in form this season.
Barça’s backup goalie Neto, however, will probably depart in the summer. The Brazillian has reportedly caught the eye of various Premier League teams, and with good reason. Consequently, B-team keeper Iñaki Peña should be promoted and earn the backup role.
In central defence, the Catalans have the quantity but not enough quality. As of now, they have Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo, Clement Lenglet, Samuel Umtiti, Oscar Mingueza, and Eric Garcia to fill in at centre-back. As such, they could afford to lose Umititi, for example, who has struggled throughout the entire season. Finding him a suitor may be difficult, however, and he has spoken out about his desire to stay with the Catalans.
Another potential departure is 28-year-old Sergi Roberto, whose contract expires in 2022. With the emergence of Dest, the arrival of Emerson, and a jam-packed midfield, Roberto’s squad role is thinner than ever. The Spaniard could very well be on his way out in the summer if he does not agree to an extension.
There are also various players who are on the fringes of the squad, struggling to find consistent playing time, who will likely depart the club. This includes Martin Braithwaite, Miralem Pjanic, and Matheus Fernandes. The latter two have combined for 1320 minutes this season, ranked 16th most in the squad and are clearly not in Koeman’s plans.
Furthermore, questions persist about the continuation of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé. The former may depart on loan or for good, and the latter will reportedly be on the market should he fail to extend his contract that expires in 2022. Coutinho has missed the majority of the season to injury and has struggled for form, but his name and profile may still attract attention from other clubs. On the other hand, Dembélé has played his first full season at Barça without a long-term injury, tallying 11 goals and five assists.
Barcelona also have a slew of players on loan, such as Jean-Claire Todibo and Carles Aleña, and their continuation at the Camp Nou are slim at best. In fact, Todibo looks set to make his loan move at OGC Nice permanent while Juan Miranda’s contract has not been renewed.
The truth is, other than a few youngsters and club icons, no one’s place is safe – especially if the price is right. For example, Antoine Griezmann, despite having a commendable second season with the Blaugrana, could still be offloaded if the right offer comes in.
The club will try to shore up finances, but selling is never as easy as the FIFA career mode makes it look like. Creativity and compromise will dominate the proceedings, whether with player exchanges or agreeing to pay off portions of salary.
With a set group in mind of who may depart, Barça will likely have extra funds to purchase even more players. The question is, who should they target? And what positions need an upgrade?
Centre-back: To get back on top of the world, Barcelona desperately need a world-class centre back. Club legend Gerard Pique is unfortunately at the end of his reign; Samuel Umtiti is a shadow of his former self; Clement Lenglet has had an underwhelming season; Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, and Eric Garcia are full of potential but can’t (yet) be relied upon every night.
Despite this mix of veteran experience and high-potential prospects, a reliable and (relatively) proven world-class option would take the team to the next level. For Barça, this means someone with immense on-the-ball ability, composure, leadership, and defensive prowess – a complete defender. If a player can come in and have half the impact that Virgil Van Dijk had on Liverpool or Ruben Dias at Manchester City, the Blaugrana’s fortunes will turn.
Dream signings include high profile names like Juventus’ Matthijs De Ligt, Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, or Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte. All three would instantly walk into the starting lineup, but the potential transfer fees could be staggering. However, if there’s one thing Barça should spend big on, it’s a centre-back.
Not all targets have to be marquee names, though. Ajax’s Lisandro Martinez, Lille’s Sven Botman, Villarreal’s Pau Torres, and Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar all come to mind. The first three are solid, up-and-coming defenders, and Inter are reportedly looking to offload players to ease their financial burden. Either way, they could (potentially) come for a more manageable transfer fee.
If Barcelona start next season without more centre-back reinforcements than Garcia, their ceiling is severely limited.
Left-back: The future of the right-back spot is finally secure thanks to Dest and Emerson, and now attention has to be turned to the opposite flank. Jordi Alba has had a monstrous season offensively, leading the squad with 13 assists and ranking third in total goal contributions (18). But, at 32-years old, the club has to line up his replacement. Effective squad building comes from being proactive, not reactive.
The ideal signing is Valencia’s José Gaya. With his attacking instincts and threat in the final third, he is as close to Jordi Alba as one can get – although Gaya offers more defensively. He tallied eight goal contributions this season and 1.20 key passes per game, compared to Alba’s 18 and 1.64. Having only recently turned 26, the Spaniard would be a stalwart at full-back for years to come.
Nevertheless, there could be some financial hurdles, and there are doubts as to whether an established player like him would want to play a bit-part role behind Alba. After all, Gaya would walk into most starting elevens in the world.
If Gaya’s signing isn’t feasible, Barça could instead target promising left-back Owen Wijndal or Javi Galan as a stop-gap fix. Wijndal, only 21-years old, plays for Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar and possesses the qualities Barcelona want in a full-back, not to mention bucket loads of potential.
Galan had a dominant season for recently relegated Huesca, placing top ten in La Liga for passes into the penalty area, progressive carrying distance, and crosses. Impressively, he also led the league in tackles won and was behind only Messi in a number of players dribbled past.
Defensive midfielder: For many culés, the number 6 role requires the most attention. Sergio Busquets has defined that position for over a decade, forming the backbone of the team. As shown many times this season, the team crumbles without him. A world-class player like Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi is on everyone’s wishlist, but that is unrealistic at this point.
The Catalans have reportedly eyed Rennes’ Eduardo Camavinga, Real Sociedad’s Mike Merino, and Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli. Only Locatelli fits the profile that they need, and the 23-year old Italian could be an intriguing signing as someone to protect the defence and pick out key passes.
If Barcelona can’t sign a defensive midfielder, they have promising youth prospects like Nico Gonzalez and Jandro Orellana, who at least deserve a shot in that role. Gonzalez recently extended his contract and has impressed with Barça B this season, whether as an interior or single pivot.
Attackers: These are Barça’s options upfront heading into next season: Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Francisco Trincao, Sergio Aguero, Ansu Fati, and (potentially) Memphis Depay. With seven players to fill in three positions, things look solid on paper. On the other hand, they still need a long-term centre-forward, and Griezmann, Dembele, and Trincão’s continuation isn’t certain.
If Dembele and Trincão depart, the team will once again lack options out wide. To help combat this, Barcelona B captain Alex Collado will be promoted to the senior team, and deservedly so. Agüero and Depay will be of instant help, but only temporary fixes until the inevitable Erling Haaland chase next summer. If all goes well, Ansu Fati can bounce back from his season-long injuries and lift the team’s attack, even if Barça already scored the most goals in Spain this season.
More help up front is by no means a priority, though it should still be considered.
Last week, Joan Laporta said, “it is the end of a cycle, and we are entering a time for renewal.” Admittedly, culés have heard these words before, notably when ex-president Josep Bartomeu proclaimed a “revolucion” following the 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich. Hopefully, things will be different this time around.
There is plenty of work to be done, but already ensuring the arrival of key free agents is a solid start. Now the Blaugrana can look to offload certain players, maximize La Masia’s talent, and build a squad that can compete with Europe’s best. Let the summer begin…