With abundant quality on the ball, inconsistency, indiscipline and behavioural issues have ended up marking the Barcelona career of Arthur Melo.
The deal between Barcelona and Juventus for the swap involving Arthur Melo and Miralem Pjanić caught many off-guard. Despite the rumours of an exit going as far back as February, few if any thought that Barcelona were capable of making such a dubious decision. Arthur had drawn some comparisons with Xavi Hernández and the legend said he saw himself in him. Those comparisons turned out to be the least of his problems.
“I see myself in Arthur when I watch him play. It’s as if Arthur is me”
Barcelona’s midfielders are renowned for their passing range as well as ability to play short, one-touch passes that serve to create space for others; their vision for a killer pass that can lacerate the opposition in an instant; positional intelligence and awareness so as to know when and where to be at all times; and most importantly, speed in efficiency at performing all these tasks. Arthur was good at retaining and relieving pressure when on the ball, but that was just about where his virtues ended and his vices began.
He often topped the charts when it came to overall passes completed but the destination of the passes is often more important than their rate of accuracy. His offensive play was nothing worth expanding on. In La Liga, a tournament that demands consistency, he made a total of just 26 key passes in both his seasons at Barcelona. He also made total of 4 assists and scored 3 goals in the Spanish top-flight but at an xG – a measurement of the quality of a shot – of just 1.52 and an xA –probability of a pass resulting in a goal – of just 3.55. If that isn’t low enough, the rate at which he would be expected to provide an assist was 0.12 per 90 and that of him scoring was at 0.05 per match.
Those aren’t numbers that anyone would call Xavi-esque. On performance alone, he is the midfielder with the lowest xA per 90 of all Barça midfielders to have played 20 or more games this season. Arthur was cautious, he never wanted to put a foot wrong but this inadvertently made him a bore to watch. Fans often spoke of the potential he had but that talk never seemed to come to an end.
Even Ernesto Valverde, a man often criticised for his reactive approach to games, was disappointed at how many fruitless passes he made. He wanted more verticality but the No. 8 rarely ever provided it. If Arthur was more like Arturo Vidal in terms of the shots he took and the chances he generated for others, then maybe he would have had a better chance at staying at the club and maybe he would have played more than 1,183 minutes in the league as well.
Valverde had an issue with finding who to give time to given how packed the midfield was, but more often than not, when Arthur received that time, he failed to perform at the level expected of him. Because of the same issues, Quique Setién was happier to use the likes of Iván Rakitić and Vidal than the Brazilian given their experience and higher rate of efficiency at what they are required to do. Taking into consideration his inconsistency in performance, the sale makes a tad bit more sense.
Arthur Melo will not play for Barça anymore | Photo by Imago
It wasn’t only on the pitch that he was disappointing – he had behavioural issues off the pitch as well. While Ousmane Dembélé has grown into more of a professional – in part thanks to the arrival of his national team captain Antoine Griezmann – Arthur has taken up the mantle of the problem child.
In early 2019, he travelled to Paris for his good friend Neymar’s birthday right before one of the most important matches of the season: El Clásico in the Copa del Rey semi-finals. Whether by correlation or causation, he found himself with a hamstring injury that would rule him out for several weeks, missing the biggest match in the world in the process.
At the tail end of the year, he made the mistake of traveling to Andorra for some snowboarding, a sport made infamous by the gruesome injuries inexperienced snowboarders incur. He had already been suffering from some pain in his pubis but recklessly decided to participate in a sport that is incompatible with football. He missed three successive games due to a groin injury, including the December Clásico against Real Madrid as a result of his indifference.
Over the Christmas period, he travelled to Brazil for the holidays and to recover from the aforementioned injury but returned not only with a worse lesion to his groin, but he was also overweight. He ended up missing some crucial ties, one of which was the Supercopa defeat against Atlético de Madrid due to injury and an overall lack of fitness.
“Arthur called and said: ‘I’m in Brazil and I will not return’. It’s his decision, but no one gave him permission to do so. We have opened a case against him because there is no reason to justify his absence”
Josep Maria Bartomeu
Barcelona president on Sunday via Sport
One would think that his behavioural problems had climaxed there but things somehow took a turn for the worse. Over the past few days, rumours have circulated in the Spanish media stating that Arthur will go on an early holiday to Brazil and that he won’t be returning to Barcelona any time soon. According to Mundo Deportivo, he wants to cancel his contract altogether and Barcelona is once again furious with him. He has every right to be angry with the board given the treatment he received but this sort of behaviour is extremely unprofessional and is giving him anything but a good image in the eyes of his next suitors. Barcelona are also rumoured to have opened disciplinary proceedings against him which as per Sport could result in him receiving the biggest fine in the club’s history.
“We agreed that until the Champions League ended, he would continue to play for Barça, both in the league and in Europe. He is a player who has a certain importance in the team and who could help us. But he did not return from the mini-vacation. It is an unacceptable act of indiscipline”
Josep Maria Bartomeu
on Arthur Melo
Inconsistency and subpar performances on the pitch, indiscipline and rebellion off it, this may just have been one bad egg that Barcelona avoided in time. President Josep Maria Bartomeu and the rest of the board have often been criticised for their poor decision making of but given all this, it doesn’t seem like much of a surprise that they would want him as far away from the club as possible.
Should Barcelona trust Oscar Mingueza more often?
Barcelona are going through their worst period ever. The Catalan giants have suffered from an institutional crisis, an injury crisis, an economic crisis and a lack of tactical awareness. For a club that was on top of Europe a decade ago, the shift in mood is gloomy, to say the least.
However, even during times of grief, there is always some light. There are no never-ending tunnels, and often, crisis leads to solutions. Some solutions are more radical, while others show their faces step by step.
To answer Barcelona’s injury problems, one that surrounded Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Ronald Araujo, one man came to Barcelona’s rescue. The absentees forced Ronald Koeman’s hand in giving Oscar Mingueza his well-deserved Barcelona debut against Dynamo Kyiv.
The defender is a tall 21-year-old who has been through every La Masia team. Ever since he turned 7, the Spaniard has been waiting for his chance, and Piqué’s horrible injury propelled him into getting his long-awaited opportunity. Away in Ukraine, the youngster showed a lot of promise. Vocal, superb with his feet and calm with his head, Mingueza was one of the best Blaugrana players on the pitch.
As captain of Barcelona B, Oscar Mingueza is one of the most experienced CBs in the youth sides. (Photo via Imago)
The situation was precarious for Barça at first. They went in with a makeshift defence and dominated the encounter. The same defence proceeded to frustrate the Ukrainians.
In truth, the La Masia graduate showed much more than just a promise, he showed a lot of character. Mingueza looked like a natural, as Jordi Alba said; like a player in his prime rather than a rookie.
Now, after catching everyone’s eyes, the debutant has to continue to mirror that display in order to become a mainstay. His display on Tuesday has given a lot of hope to Culés and could be the answer to many questions. He could become a reliable backup or, if he still shows this level of performance, become a regular. It is up to him to show if he is up for the fight.
Usually for Barcelona, when things go South, they are uncontrollable. The recent displays, along with the accumulations of injuries, have shown that when it rains, it pours at Camp Nou.
When Leo Messi goes down injured, for example, the Catalans look worried and anxious because they have no replacement. Having a big squad sometimes does not mean having a complete squad. Every team needs to know where they are headed and who will play in case of a watershed during the season. However, the giants finally have a complete squad.
Ronald Koeman left out Frenkie de Jong and Messi against Kyiv, and the Blaugranas were able to take control of the situation in their absence. The Dutch midfielder is also the usual suspect when a defender goes down injured. On Tuesday, Koeman might have discovered an alternative to de Jong at centre-back.
Indeed, Mingueza is not the finished product. He needs time to grow and cannot play every game like a veteran. He has to be embedded intelligently in the squad.
Nonetheless, in desperate times, the ball-playing centre-back looks like a great alternative. His attitude showed many signs of ripeness, and he can at least help when his club needs him. As a La Masia graduate, Mingueza will fit right in.
Also, as a youth player, the defender costs next to nothing compared to Umtiti’s salary, for example. Having a cheap alternative which has been waiting for this chance since he was a kid is the way to go. If Barcelona want to go back to their roots, they have to trust Mingueza.
📰 — Mingueza played a very good game vs Kyiv, and his great performance could earn him a starting spot alongside Lenglet against Osasuna on Sunday. [md] pic.twitter.com/bZHhWeLFiw— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 25, 2020
Finally, it is worth noting that this was one game, and so the sample size is incredibly tiny. That said, no one starts with a dominating display against Atletico Madrid right off the bat.
Would the 21-year-old have had a Man of the Match performance on Saturday if Piqué was not a starter? Is it plausible to have blind faith in a youngster after one impressive display? Surely not.
After making his debut a memorable one, Oscar Mingueza needs to come in strong against the bigger guns and help Barcelona fill in for Pique, whose void is a behemoth. He can achieve it and have a bright future at Camp Nou if he keeps his feet on the ground. It all starts with another superb performance against Osasuna this weekend.