Replacing Luis Suarez is by no means an easy matter. However, as Suarez himself has confessed, Barcelona must search for a new striker if they want to have the future in safe hands. In this article, we present four potential candidates to succeed in the Uruguayan.
For Barca, a striker is not just a finisher, nor an out-and-out striker. Therefore, a lot of research goes into who wears the No9 shirt in the team and leads the line. For several years, we’ve seen strikers come and go, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o, and, most recently, the random signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng.
A Barcelona striker needs to do much more than put the ball at the back of the net. He needs to get involved in the build-up, support the No10, the wingers and contribute defensively as well. Our current Luis Suarez has been the starting man upfront for half a decade now, and has shown his quality week in week out.
The 32-year-old is still showing his significance on the pitch. He has scored 189 goals in 267 games for Barcelona, with his latest goal being a stunning back heel chip against Mallorca at the Camp Nou. The Uruguayan has continued to produce regularly this season, with 12 goals and six assists so far. Apart from scoring, he has supported the attack throughout.
He has assisted 86 times in total, building a brutal connection with his best friend Lionel Messi and also Neymar along the way. We can clearly see what a Barcelona striker needs to have in order to make it to the team.
Players like Zlatan are out-and-out strikers and hence could not last long. They couldn’t adapt to the Barca style. It’s very tough to do so, and not everyone makes it to the starting 11 consistently.
Antoine Griezmann is the answer for the short term, despite many people disagreeing with the signing considering his age and the outrageous fee Barcelona paid for him. His link-up with Leo and Suarez remains to be seen.
Now, as Suarez ages, it’s natural that Barca start looking for a new striker, but the multi-million-dollar question is: who?
There’s been much talk about Inter’s Lautaro Martinez moving to Catalonia for around €100–110 million.
He’s a great centre-forward, currently having one of the best seasons of his career under new manager Antonio Conte. Lautaro, partnered up by Romelu Lukaku in the Nerazzurri‘s 3–5–2, has already scored 13 goals and provided three assists in 22 competitive matches this term.
The 22-year-old is also a regular in Argentina’s national team, meaning that a partnership with Messi would be nothing new to him.
The former Racing Club prospect is an all-rounder. Explosive, powerful and with a good upper body strength, El Toro (The Bull) can beat physically any defender in spite of being relatively short at 1.74 metres (5 ft 9).
He’s a great finisher, has a lot of pace, takes his chances with calmness and composure, and links up play as well. He’s a complete striker, but his price tag is a big issue and it’s an unknown whether the club will be willing to meet Inter’s demands.
First at Stuttgart and now at RB Leipzig, Timo Werner has always been considered his respective team’s crown jewel.
Nonetheless, this campaign the 23-year-old has lit up the Bundesliga as maturity and Julian Nagelsmann have been an explosive combination for the star of Leipzig, current leaders in the German top flight.
His best goalscoring season in the Bundesliga was the 16/17, where he found the net 21 times. With 18 games left to be played, Werner is only three goals away from equalling that tally.
In all competitions, Werner has 23 goals and nine assists in 24 appearances and 1.908 minutes, which translates to a goal contribution roughly every 60 minutes. Brutal.
That being said, Werner is much more than just a clinical goalscorer. Actually, he isn’t the main reference up top, but more like an inside forward or even left winger at times.
The Germany constantly makes runs in behind the defence and detects and exploits any gap that there may be in the half-spaces between the centre-back and the full-back.
Lightning fast and smart on and off the ball, Werner is a direct dribbler and combines it with his vision and passing. Sharpness, reading of space and versatility are one of his main assets, and a reason why many fans see him as the ideal player to take up the role David Villa used to have in the past, supporting Messi as the false nine.
While these are all great prospects, there’s one striker who hasn’t been given a chance but should be one to consider. He’s one of our own homegrown La Masia talents and a current striker for Barca B: Abel Ruiz.
He has the Barca DNA and it would be easy to adapt to the first team.
Like Werner, he’s intelligent and versatile. Often compared to Karim Benzema, Abel constantly abandons the penalty area to offer support through clever movements and one or two-touch passes. However, although his mobility is extraordinary, his goalscoring ability is in question.
Always dubbed as the next big thing at the academy and Spain’s youth teams, Abel has been involuting in the last 18 months.
In the 18/19 Segunda B he scored only three goals, the same amount of goals he has in the 19/20. In fact, the teenager has only been in the starting line-up in one of the past six matches he has been available, as Garcia Pimienta has lately preferred to deploy Hiroki Abe as a false nine over him.
The Spain U-21 international trains occasionally with the big boys and made his La Liga debut in May against Getafe.
However, Barca seem to have opened the door for a temporary or permanent departure from Abel in the January transfer window. Valencia and Oviedo are interested in him.
One of our very own, the Dinamo Zagreb winger Dani Olmo is a young Spanish International who is wanted by majority of the big clubs in Europe.
The likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, PSG, Juventus, and even Barca are monitoring the 21-year-old ex-La Masia prospect. Olmo naturally is a winger, but he can play all three positions in attack, including as an attacking midfielder or false nine.
Apart from flexible, he’s a great finisher with a truly blessed pair of feet, precise technique in tight space, and dazzling dribbling. He often likes to carry the ball forward and play shorter, crispier passes at the edge of the box.
Olmo, named the best player and best young player of the 18/19 Croatian First Football League, has scored eight goals and has seven assists to his name in 22 games for his club this season.
In addition, he even scored in his Spanish national team debut. Despite the fact he may not be ideal to act as the centre-forward on his own, Olmo, as well as having a bright future ahead, would be a wild card for Ernesto Valverde given his ability to occupy various positions.
Barcelona are working on getting him on board with reports coming that he’s edging closer to come back to the Camp Nou. For that, though, he’ll need to choose to be a rotation piece over other high-profile clubs.
In a recent interview, Luis Suarez said that Barcelona need to sign a young prospect in order to replace him. But who will take the baton to lead the front line and wear the number nine shirt in a future remains to be seen.
The technical secretary has plenty of options at its disposal, but getting the perfect fit will be the directives’ greatest challenge.
Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time
Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.
But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.
Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.
So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.
However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.
The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.
This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.
Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.
But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.
The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.
We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.
So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.
But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.
Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.
And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.
Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.
So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.
Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.
But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.
In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.
But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.
Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.