With presidential elections next January, Barcelona have a chance to re-define their poor transfer policy, albeit with limited funds. New reports have surfaced revealing Olympique Lyonnais have lowered the asking price of their talisman Memphis Depay to only €5 million. Barça have been eyeing him for some months now, in no small part due to coach Ronald Koeman, who coached Depay with the Netherlands national team. Given the discrepancy between his value and price tag and Barça’s need for a striker, would Depay be a sensible transfer?
Memphis Depay’s career got off to a promising start with Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, where he scored 50 goals in 124 appearances. He won Dutch Footballer of the Year in 2014/15 after guiding Eindhoven to a league-win, earning him a summer move to Manchester United.
Unfortunately, his spell in England was short-lived as he struggled to perform, resulting in a transfer to Lyon in 2017. Since then, he’s been instrumental for the French outfit as well as a key member for the Dutch national team, which Ronald Koeman coached before his move to Barça. With Lyon, he’s tallied 62 goals and 47 assists in 154 appearances.
Depay is often deployed as a left-of-centre striker or left-winger, but his versatility allows him to be played anywhere across the front line, even behind the striker in a number ten role. He’s a great dribbler, creative on the ball, and menacing in front of goal. He’s typically given the freedom to roam and with the ball at his feet, his impact is felt all over the pitch.
His heatmap showcases where he’s most active on the pitch this season. He likes to drift inside to either create for his teammates or shoot from distance when playing out-wide. When up-top, he drops deep to get involved with build-up. This season he’s averaging 2.3 key passes per game, 5.56 shot-creating actions per game, and 2.74 successful dribbles per game. Also, across 16 matches played, he already has eight goals and four assists.
The graphic below showcases his shots locations this season. He is fairly clinical inside the box but his penchant for long-range shooting makes him a unique threat to opposing defenses.
Structural fit at Barça
Barcelona are in dire need of a centre forward, but does Depay fit the profile they’re looking for? Ideally, Barça’s next “number nine” will be a natural goalscorer rather a creative player who can also score goals. They should operate in and around the box, create space for their more creative teammates, and focus more on finishing than the build-up.
Nevertheless, they must still be adept at linking-up with midfielders or wingers. Luis Suárez filled this role perfectly for over half a decade and Martin Braithwaite fills this need for now, but he is not necessarily a long-term choice of the Catalans.
As a lone striker, Depay’s tendencies to drop deep would bring more bodies to an already overcrowded area of the pitch, and his strengths would be nullified by Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and the countless “number tens” Barça are harbouring. If started at left wing, the Dutchman has a natural tendency to drift centrally, further exacerbating the Blaugrana’s lack of natural width.
In all, his positioning would conflict with Barça’s multitude of creative players. Depay is a highly talented striker, but not necessarily the profile Barcelona need.
Another question to consider is what role Depay would have in the squad. Would he be a bench player or a starter? Is he a long-term solution or a short-term fix? If he starts up top, who between Messi and Griezmann will start out wide? Depay could be a short-term fix on the left flank, but what happens once Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati eventually return from injury?
His arrival would also push youngsters like Pedri, Francisco Trincão and Konrad de la Fuente further down the pecking order, the latter two in particular who need more first-team experience to develop. In all, Depay’s versatility is appealing, but he doesn’t fit a need not already satisfied for the Blaugrana.
With an incoming new board, financial setbacks and on-the-pitch struggles, Barça have a chance to re-define their transfer policy that’s been marred by inconsistent and underwhelming signings. Depay is a real bargain at only €5 million, but he would still not be the most sensible transfer for the Catalans. It’s not a question of skill, but fit. Barça must realize that his value is already present in the squad they have.
With minimal transfer funds, the Blaugrana should focus on re-building other parts of the squad or take more advantage of La Masia’s production line. Granted, signing Depay wouldn’t be an egregious error; in fact, he offers more than enough “bang for your buck”, but he just isn’t the missing piece of the puzzle.
The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book
Guest Contributor: Darren Looney
“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.
In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.
FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades.
The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have.
Barcelona’s current state
The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.
Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma.
Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence.
Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.
When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”.
This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.
In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.
Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears.
The Jurgen Klopp effect
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.
In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.
One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.
Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.
Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes.
It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.
Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.
Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit.
The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.