A subject of much controversy and debate in recent weeks, Jean-Clair Todibo has effectively ruffled the feathers of hoards of Barcelona supporters. His comments of late regarding the club, his time in it and his future have gotten mixed receptions, with some either sympathizing or critiquing his voice of words.
As always, there is always more to it than meets the eye, and in this article from Barça Universal, we explore just that.
His short-lived spell at Barça
Signed from Toulouse in the first half of 2019, the Frenchman was chosen by Eric Abidal as the heir to Gerard Piqué’s throne. At the time of the announcement of his signing, there was but just one teenager who had made more clearances than the youngster in Europe’s top five leagues.
Upon touching down in the Catalan capital, he described being at Barcelona as a childhood dream, but little did he know it would never see the light of day. The 2018/19 campaign simply passed by, with hid only minutes in the campaign coming after Barcelona’s La Liga triumph over Atletico de Madrid.
In the 2019/20 season, he first featured against Getafe, though as a mere substitute in the final two minutes of stoppage time. His true introduction to Spanish football came against Sevilla in La Liga in Barça’s 4-0 rout of their Andalusian counterparts. His performance on the night, while not incredible, showed promise. His teammates were comfortable passing him the ball regardless of the situation, and despite some lapses in concentration here and there, he had an overall commendable performance.
Where he truly shone was against Inter Milan away from home. Up against one of Europe’s most lethal attacking duos in Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku, the Barça number six did not break a sweat. The sheer ease at which he moved with the ball and his overall defensive aptitude left many in awe. In true ‘Barça Style’, he always looked up in search of a pass, and when the passing avenues were absent, he showed no fear whatsoever trekking upfield to generate them.
This should have been enough of an indicator to Ernesto Valverde that he was worthy of — at the very least — a position as a substitute, but this mesmeric performance would be his last representing the iconic Garnet and Blue of Barcelona.
He was briskly loaned off to Schalke in January in a move that was not all that beneficial for him given the side’s style of play which rather than propel him, mitigated his maximal abilities.
The root cause of his frustrations
For a youngster, one of, if not the, most salient things in one’s development is game time. There is simply no way around it. Before signing for Barcelona, Toulouse denied him any minutes on the pitch from November, as the 20-year-old turned down their efforts to sign a contract extension. This resulted in him missing out on football for the better part of eight consecutive months.
Once in the first team, to have received only 165 minutes from a possible 2250 was as big a slap in the face as they come. The Catalans taking him from Les Gones via their rather oddly timed — and awfully greedy looking — signing ensured that he would play no further part in their season. They essentially closed off all possible avenues for him to play, all so they, and no one else, could have him.
“The presentation in Barcelona, it’s madness, but I only played five matches, it’s bogus in real life. I won a La Liga (in 2019), but I didn’t help the team, I played when we had won the title!”
The Frenchman’s anger at the club is warranted. More than just feature as a filler ahead of their away game at Anfield — which they heavily lost anyway —, he wanted to feel valued, something Barcelona, more so Ernesto Valverde was utterly incapable of doing.
He expanded on this sentiment, providing two conflicting messages that were given to him while with the Blaugrana: “Abidal saw me as Piqué’s replacement. I played two games, then Valverde told me that I was the fourth defender but that I was going to have to prove in the preseason. Umtiti got hurt. I do the right thing, but I am not given my chance.”
With Samuel Umtiti’s incessant injuries, dreadful inconsistency, and what he was told by Abidal beforehand, it makes perfect sense why he felt so betrayed.
“I’m not asking to play the Clásico, but make me play matches, I think I have the level to play against Leganés, with all the respect I have for them. I waited 2 months to play against Inter Milan, and I understood that I had to leave.”
The Catalans made a strong but subtly delivered message — they didn’t want him there and affirmed this yet again this past summer, with his loan to OGC Nice.
In addition to this, over the past few months, he has expressed his complete and utter disinterest in the club and what happens within it. On the one hand, given Barça still are his parent club, he should be more careful with his words, but on the other, the neglect he received from it was inevitably going to burn down more bridges than it built, was it not?
At this point in time, everything points towards a move away from the Nou Camp, and this is a win-win situation for both. Barcelona could get around €15 million from his sale, seven less than they would have earned had they parted ways back in the summer. With this, they could finance their grand plan to sign Erling Braut Häland from Borussia Dortmund or at least get a worthy alternative to Martin Braithwaite in the striking role.
As for Jean-Clair Todibo, it only makes sense for him to leave. With Eric García arriving in the summer, and this being a signing that Ronald Koeman desperately wants, the Frenchman would be the Catalans’ third choice right-sided centre-back at best, and fifth at worst. Given the presence of Gerard Piqué, Ronald Araújo, García and, to an extent, Frenkie de Jong, staying would by no means be the smartest course of action.
He could perhaps slot into the Dutchman’s role at the heart of a back three given his tantalizing ball-playing abilities, but the lack of a guarantee of playing time at Barça, as well as the incessant stress and criticism bright about in typical style by Spanish media — which he admittedly is not a fan of — steers him farther and farther away.
Once touted as having a higher ceiling than Araújo, this is one signing that will leave many wondering what could have been.
Copa Del Rey final: Forgetting El Clasico, Supercopa Final and more
What seemed very unlikely at one stage in Barcelona’s season is now just one game away from a trophy. Saturday sees Ronald Koeman’s men contest this season’s Copa del Rey final against a familiar foe in Marcelino and his Athletic Club side at the Estadio de La Cartuja in Seville, the scene of the Athletics’ manager’s most recent cup final triumph over the Catalan side.
The pair met in the Supercopa de España final back in January, with Athletic Club coming away from the tie as 3-2 winners after extra time. The defeat was a demoralising moment for Barça, as the Catalan side were just a minute away from victory until Asier Villalibre equalised.
Going into the final, Barcelona find themselves in another disheartening moment of the season after coming up short to bitter rivals Real Madrid in a 2-1 defeat in El Clasico, a result that could prove crucial in this season’s title race.
The potential of the season collapsing looms over the Catalan side, with doubt creeping into some of the players’ minds, with Jordi Alba being the first to express it.
Marcelino could not have asked for a better result to face Barcelona off the back of, as the Spaniard has a history of punishing dejected Barça sides. For Koeman’s men, the Clasico result must be swept aside because the manager in opposition dugout on Saturday provides a subtle reminder of what can happen if they fail to do so, the 18/19 season.
Forgetting El Clasico
“I don’t know, eh,” Jordi Alba’s words to Gerard Pique after Barcelona’s defeat to Real Madrid are simple, but those that know the place they are coming from know that they have the weight of fear and trauma behind them.
The conversation between the pair started with Pique stating “Relax, we will win [the cup final]” with the fullback replying “I don’t know, eh.” Unable to hear the centre back responds with “What?” before Barça’s fullback states again, “I don’t know [if we will win it].”
Alba’s doubt most likely casts back to the defeat in the Supercopa final, but in those words, “I don’t know” are the results of Anfield, the Valencia cup final, Bayern Munich and all the other setbacks the club have experienced in the last few seasons.
The 32-year-old knows the importance of El Clasico and the knock-on effect defeat can have in the weeks after, especially considering the importance of the latest chapter of the fixture.
Ronald Koeman cannot allow this psychological doubt to creep back into his team after doing phenomenally well to banish it over the last four months. There are positives to take from the weekend’s events, and it is here where the Dutchman can start to reaffirm the confidence shown throughout the Blaugranas’ 19 games unbeaten run.
Although the defeat was a setback in Barcelona’s pursuit of La Liga, focussing on the game itself, the difference between the sides was not that great.
It was a classic tale of two halves, with Real dominating the first with their counter attacks and Barça the second with their high positioning and possession. Koeman should find solace in the second-half performance, as his team came within the width of the crossbar of rescuing a point despite the added battle of monsoon-like conditions.
The match was somewhat ideal preparation for the final, as Athletic Club are also fantastic in transitions and are specifically very effective on both flanks of the pitch, areas of space that were exploited by Real. However, they are themselves in a sour spot, having already lost the Copa del Rey final 2020, against Real Sociedad, which was played no more than 2 weeks back.
Koeman will need to address this throughout the week, and it would not be a surprise if the Dutchman opted for four at the back for the cup final.
Another positive for Koeman is the timing of this cup final, as a result on each side of the coin could have an enormous effect on Barça’s season. Although defeat has the potential to ruin the Catalan sides season, there is no better way to bounce back from a defeat to Real Madrid than lifting a trophy, and it could be a springboard towards doing the double.
The problem for Koeman with addressing the doubts of Alba and others is not only the uncertainty left by the Clasico but the final of the Supercopa de España as well.
Expelling the Memories of the Supercopa Final
January seems a lifetime ago in terms of how Ronald Koeman’s team has developed over the months since. The formation has changed, Barcelona started winning big games, and a winning mentality has been firmly instilled in the squad. The Catalan club as a whole are moving in the right direction, and winning a trophy will somewhat symbolise this.
The Copa del Rey final will be the fourth time this season Barca have faced Athletic Club, winning two out of the three previous meetings.
Despite this, it is that single loss that has the potential to cause problems in the minds of the players on Saturday. The final of the Supercopa de España was the match that got away and reminded everyone in the squad of the embarrassing moments the club has experienced over the last three seasons.
Barça were one minute away from securing their first trophy since lifting La Liga in May 2019 until Asier Villalibre equalised to take the final to extra time. Iñaki William put Athletic Club’s name on the trophy with a wonderful strike leaving Koeman’s men dejected.
Jordi Alba’s doubts regarding this season’s Copa del Rey final most likely stems from this game, and if the full-back is thinking this way, there could be others as well.
Going into the final, Koeman must focus on the two wins the Catalan side have had over Marcelino’s men. The last time the sides met, Barcelona won the match 2-1 at the Camp Nou and performed brilliantly with the scoreline flattering the Basque side. Barca exploited Athletic Club on the wings and created multiple chances to score goals, with the winner coming from an Oscar Mingueza cross down the right.
Koeman can also turn to Athletic Club’s form for inspiration, with the Basque side winning only 4 of their last 14 matches. Within this run was a defeat in last years edition of the Copa del Rey final, in which Marcelino’s side lost to local rivals Real Sociedad 1-0.
At present, Barcelona are a much better side than Athletic Club. Form, head-to-head meetings, and the quality of players all fall in the favour of the Catalan side but having mentioned all this doubt, and how Koeman can address it, the fact is that there might still be some thanks to a recent encounter with the Basque side’s manager Marcelino.
The Ghost of the 2019 Final
In the 18/19 season, a Lionel Messi inspired Barca side were charging towards an unexpected treble at the start of May. With the league already wrapped up, two fixtures stood out within the final month of the season, a trip to Liverpool and the Copa del Rey final.
On the 7th of May, the infamous night at Anfield occurred, where Barcelona let a 3-0 lead from the first leg slip and failed to reach the Champions League final. The experience was confidence shattering and was not ideal with the cup final around the corner.
The 2019 Copa del Rey final was contested between Barcelona, and a Marcelino led Valencia. The Southeastern outfit won the tie 2-1 thanks to two first-half goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo. As a stand only fixture, there is nothing special about this tie. However, the significance of this final to current events lies in the weeks that lead up to the final.
In the 17 days between Anfield and Andalucía, that one match would consistently nag away at the Barca players. Gerard Pique recently called that night the worst defeat of his career and previously stated that he believed that if they won that night, they would have claimed the Copa del Rey as well.
Fast forward to now, and the similarities are present. Barça go into a cup final against a Marcelino led side after a disheartening defeat in an important El Clasico.
Luckily for Ronald Koeman, things are much different. The Dutchman’s team is certainly a better one who have been in fantastic form of late, the defeat in El Clasico did not end Barca’s hopes of winning La Liga, and despite Jordi Alba’s doubts, the player’s confidence will not have taken the same level of a confidence hit the Anfield defeat brought.
However, it is still a memory that remains and Marcelino will only remind them of that.
The 2021 Copa del Rey final is nicely poised for fans of Spanish football. For Barca fans, it will ultimately show whether this team has overcome their psychological traumas of the past. The signs in the previous rounds seem to suggest that they have, but with Barcelona, you never know.