In collaboration with Udhav Arora.
The transfer market is a wild place filled with intrigue, drama, and controversy. Navigating it, like most ventures in life, often requires connections to help facilitate business.
Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta has a cordial relationship with ‘super-agent’ Mino Raiola, and that could impact Barça’s transfer market activity should Laporta win the coveted presidency. Raiola represents some of the sport’s biggest names, and if Laporta wins, we will likely see more links between the club and players Raiola represents.
Stemming from that, Barça Universal takes a look at Raiola’s ten most notable players and judges their potential transfers to Barça.
Erling Haaland is a name on every football fan’s tongue right now. The young striker has taken the world by storm since last season with Red Bull Salzburg which earned him a move to Borussia Dortmund. If his start in Austria was incredible, it has become nearly impossible to tame him with Dortmund as he continues to storm Europe.
Haaland is a player who likes to play off the shoulder of the last line of the opposition defence, and despite his tall frame and hefty build, can race past the fastest defenders. The 20-year-old is a freak of nature if the world of football has ever seen one and boasts of unmatched physical and technical qualities. Not to mention, he was awarded the Golden Boy award for the best U-21 player across Europe this season.
Currently, he sits second only to Robert Lewandowski in the Bundesliga top-scorers list with ten goals to the Pole’s 13. He has, however, sustained an injury which rules him out till January. Rest assured, we know he will be taking no prisoners once he returns to the pitch.
Barcelona are in dire need of a central striker and would be lucky to have the services of Haaland, a man destined to become an all-time great. And at the bargain of €75 million, he should be on top of Laporta’s transfer list.
Transfer Rating: 10/10
Matthijs De Ligt
Matthijs de Ligt is one of Raiola’s premier players, and that’s saying a lot. The Dutchman rose through the ranks of the Ajax youth system and made his first-team debut at 17 years old. He spent three successful seasons with the Dutch giants before making a move to Juventus in the summer of 2019. He was bought for 75 million euros, making him the fourth most expensive defender in history. Barça were in the race for his signing but could not seal the deal.
De Ligt’s first season at Juventus was marred by inconsistency and some defensive lapses, but nothing too glaring for a young defender. The 21-year old has all the traits of a modern center back. He’s comfortable on the ball and is skilled at tackling, marking, and anticipation. His tall frame and physicality give him an advantage in the air and on the ground. He scored four goals last season, had a 91.9% passing completion, 0.85 tackles won per game, and won 63.1% of his aerial duels.
The Golden Boy winner would be a fantastic transfer for Barça, replacing the ageing Gerard Pique, and he could be at the heart of their defence for the next decade and a half. He has all the traits they would want, but the Catalans will hope he shores up his defensive errors, especially because they will have to go out on a limb to sign him.
Transfer Rating: 9.5/10
Paul Pogba, on ability alone, is definitely on par with some of the most talented players of his generation. However, on form and consistency, he remains an enigma.
The World Cup winner is arguably the most protected client Mino Raiola has. The Italian agent has often spoken about Pogba to the press, giving constant updates. The latest one being that his time with Manchester United is up, and that he needs to move on.
Pogba carries with him a huge burden in terms of wages and man-management. While the former, on paper, would be Barcelona’s bigger issue, fitting him into a three-man midfield — which is the best way to bring the best out of him — while boasting of an excess of midfielders seems like a poor decision.
Transfer Rating: 6.5/10
Verratti moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 2012 at only 19 years-old, and he has been at the heart of their midfield ever since. He has made over 300 appearances for the Parisians and is their all-time appearances leader in the Champions League.
A deep-lying playmaker, Verratti is skilled on the ball, creative with his passing, and boasts an immense work-rate. The Italian retains possession well in tight spaces, and can easily pass or dribble his way out of trouble. Last season, he completed 92.7% of his passes, 7.44 of which were progressive passes, and had 1.19 successful dribbles per game. Though petite in stature, 165 cm or 5’4, he more than makes up for it with his work-rate. Defensively, he had 3.72 tackles plus interceptions per game and won 55.6% of his duels in the league.
Verratti would be more than worthy addition to the Barça squad, but he would ultimately be surplus to requirements as the team has more than enough midfielders.
Transfer rating: 7/10
Donnarumma is 21-years old and has already made over 200 appearances for AC Milan. Touted as the next Gianluigi Buffon, Donnarumma has cemented his role as shot-stopper for both Milan and the Italian national team.
He’s a commanding presence in the box and matches his stature with quick reflexes and agility. His shot-stopping is sensational, and statistics back it up. In this season’s Serie A, he’s first in post-shot expected goals allowed, a statistic that measures how well a keeper fares against shots expected to go in. He also has the fourth-highest save percentage this season with 0.75. Donnarumma is also incredible in penalty situations, as last year he saved five out of the ten penalty kicks he faced.
The 21-year old has to improve on his distribution and on-the ball comfortability, but he has plenty of time to do so.
Donnarumma’s contract expires next summer and contract talks have reached a stalemate, so his name could cover the headlines next year. Barça are set in goal with Marc-André ter Stegen, and all while Donnarumma is a solid player, the Blaugrana do not need him.
Transfer Rating: 6/10
Marcus Thuram did not break onto the scene like several others of his generation. Instead, it seemed like he took his sweet time, continued to work hard in silence, eventually catching the world’s eye after his teenage years were behind him. Since then, though, his rise has been meteoric.
Thuram got his well-deserved transfer to Borussia Monchengladbach, and has worked wonders under Marco Rose, a man who seems to understand wingers like few others.
At 6’4″, you would not expect the Frenchman to be as rapid as he is. In fact, his sturdy build coupled with his brilliant agility and technical finesse make him an all-round forward. One who can take on fullbacks on the wing, and at the same time bully centre-backs inside the box.
Thuram has endured a relatively slower season in the Bundesliga this time around, scoring two goals and setting up one for his teammates, but that does not do justice to his ability. A player who can play across the frontline, Thuram would make for an excellent addition to the Barcelona side who lack quick wingers. The only thing faulting this move is that the 23-year-old does his best work on the left-wing, where Ansu Fati operates.
Transfer Rating: 7/10
Donyell Malen has spearheaded PSV Eindhoven’s frontline for the past few seasons, and many of Europe’s top clubs have their eyes on him. The Dutchman is a complete forward defined by his pace, dribbling abilities, and prolific eye-for goal. He tends to drop into midfield to involve himself in build-up play and create space for his teammates. With the ball at his feet, his speed and technicality make a lethal combination.
He scored 14 goals in all competitions last season and already has 12 this season. This season, he’s averaging 7.16 touches per 90 minutes in the middle area of the pitch and 10.3 in the attacking third, indicating his fluidity and ability to impact the game in all phases. The 21-year-old is also averaging 3.85 shots per game and 1.1 successful dribbles per game.
Malen would fit a need for Barcelona at centre-forward, and he could potentially be a great signing. Not to mention that he would come at a bargain rate, and can cover more than one position in the frontline.
Transfer Rating: 8/10
Gravenberch is one of the most promising up and coming midfielders in the world. Yet another Ajax starlet, plenty of big clubs are also keeping tabs on him. Gravenberch made his senior debut in September 2018, becoming the club’s youngest ever player at 16 years old and 130 days.
The 18-year-old is deployed at central midfield, where he likes to dictate tempo with his composure and keen passing. Gravenberch likes to progress into opposition territory with the ball at his feet, indicated by his 17.8 carries per game this season. He is also averaging 0.6 key passes per game and already has four assists.
At 190 cm, or 6’2, Gravenberch is as imposing physically as he is technically. He is astute on the ball but also shoulders his defensive responsibilities well. He is averaging 2.05 tackles plus interceptions per game this year and wins six duels per game.
Gravenberch could be a long-term replacement in midfield for the Catalans, but with the club having a surplus of players in that position, one wonders if a potential move to Barça would just hamper his development.
Transfer Rating: 8/10
A slightly left-of-centre option (literally), Mitchel Bakker has been enjoying a breakthrough 2020/21 season under Thomas Tuchel, displacing Juan Bernat and Laywin Kurwaza.
A graduate from Ajax’s academy, there is little faulting the Dutchman’s technique, who is able to carry the ball through tight spaces and, using his strength, bully most wingers that try to cross his path. On top of that, he has a phenomenal work-rate and can track runners on the flank with ease.
He boasts of an eye for a pass as well and has racked up two assists already this season in the Ligue 1 in 13 appearances. His three big chances created, and 0.7 key passes per game also stand as evidence to the aforementioned statement.
With Jordi Alba on the last juncture of his career, 20-year-old Bakker would make for an ideal replacement in a market already cut-throat for left-backs.
Transfer Rating: 8.5/10
Only the second winger in this list of ten, Calvin Stengs operates on the right side of the frontline acting as a dynamic presence who can do it all on and off the ball.
Stengs, like any other 21-year-old winger, swaggers of a filthy amount of pace making him near-unbeaten on the flank. On the ball, he is an excellent playmaker who is able to find runners via through balls and quick one-twos. Off it, he acts as the medium midfielders need through the centre, making runs from wide areas into the box, playing off the shoulder.
His outstanding creative prowess is displayed through the three big chances he has created, and the 2.2 key passes he averages per game – a number just short of Lionel Messi’s 2.3. However, apart from this what makes the young Dutchman an exciting prospect for Barcelona is because of Messi, who is touted to leave the club come June 2021. The right-wing would be left empty, and even though the jump from Eredivisie to Liga is difficult — ask Frenkie de Jong —, betting on Stengs seems like a safe call.
Transfer Rating: 9/10
Mino Raiola represents some of the world’s best established and most promising players, and if Joan Laporta wins the presidency, his relationship with the super-agent could pay dividends in the transfer market. Nevertheless, Barcelona will have to tolerate the drama Raiola brings along with him, but it will be worth it once fans see his client list.
Stats via FBRef/Sofascore