It was the biggest game in Manchester United’s season so far — a do or die in the Champions League. Facing a contest against RB Leipzig that could end up in a triumph or disaster, United’s manager projected a picture of unity inside the dressing room. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said positive things in a press conference ahead of the game.
Solskjaer expressed his belief that the players will “show the reason” they deserve to be at the club, and how “the character of the group is getting better and better “.
But, Mino Raiola, it seems, didn’t get the memo. Uninvited, and arriving late to the party, Raiola changed the music and killed the mood.
“I can say that it’s over for Paul Pogba at Manchester United.”Mino Raiola | Interview with Tuttosport
He went further, “It’s pointless beating around the bush. Better to be straight up about it. Paul is unhappy at Manchester United. He isn’t performing as he’d like and as we expect. He has to move, he has to change scenery. He has a contract that expires in 18 months, in summer 2022. But I think the best thing for all parties is a sale.“
With a transfer nearly inevitable now, Barça Universal analyses the different aspects of bringing Paul Pogba to Camp Nou, and if Barcelona should go ahead with the deal in the first place.
The financial angle
Selling Pogba would free up around £15-18 million per year in wages for Manchester United. Juventus could be his preferred route, but for that to work out, he will practically have to half his salary to fit into the €9 million yearly wage cap they have in action. Moreover, if he is given an exemption like Cristiano Roanldo, it could take a huge toll on their finances.
The Pogba-Juventus saga seems far from over. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
The destination in case for Pogba, however, is Barcelona, who, to be fair, are in an economical muddle of their own. As the situation stands, several players were let off for nothing, or for a lot less than their market value in an attempt to reduce the wage bill.
With Barcelona already in the next stage of Champions League, they have secured €8.5 million already. A quarter-final place in Champions League is worth €9.5 million, a semi-final spot a further €11 million. Teams also share a market pool of television rights worth an estimate of €263 million.
In short, going ahead in the Champions League is significant for the club’s revenue streams.
On top of that, if the Lionel Messi transfer comes to a close, the club likely digs itself a huge pit for more players. However, with the Presidential elections soon, that deal is stuck in quicksand as it stands.
The management and tactical angle
The 2020-21 campaign is the fifth season of “Unlocking Paul Pogba” show at Old Trafford — but it seems that it will not be renewed further after experiencing inconsistent TRP through the years. Juventus and PSG seem to be the frontrunners for his signature, but the rumours suggesting he is on his way to Spain have become difficult to ignore.
However, he tags along the burden of handling the rumours of Mino Raiola with him. The Italian player agent is one of the best in the business and prioritises his client’s needs above the club, and does not shy away from the media either. That said, if Joan Laporta becomes president of Barcelona, one can expect his good relationship with Raiola to be of help in an attempt to lure Pogba.
Mino Raiola is a headache, but has the best of clients. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
While Pogba has flattered to deceive for much of his time in the Premier League, could a move to Blaugranas be the perfect remedy to revive what has become his fledgeling stardom? On the surface, it seems like he would fit quite well at the club.
After spending the last four seasons hearing analysts say Pogba was continually played out of position at United, he should finally be allowed to play in a role that suits him at Barcelona.
While Barcelona have fielded a 4-2-3-1 this season, which has not worked, for the most part, a change to a 4-3-3 is becoming largely inevitable, especially if Ronald Koeman is relieved off his duties soon.
This starting lineup is quite flexible, on paper at least. Jordi Alba will not be easily ousted from the left-back spot, although his form over the last two seasons has been dire at times.
The questions surrounding the midfield are rather interesting. Sergio Busquets will turn 33-years old next year, and displaying serious signs of decline over the past 2 seasons, he will likely see his playing time cut in the upcoming campaign. Moreover, Riqui Puig’s unwavering attitude and progress mean that he is likely to get a spot in the midfield triumvirate, albeit under a different manager.
That leaves the left midfield position open for Pogba, the same role where he thrived in for both Juventus and his national team France. At United, he has not been asked to play at his strengths — those being the ability to dictate play from deep, and start attacks from deep by carrying the ball.
When in possession, Barcelona’s fullbacks will provide much of the width in the team. Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi will drift infield to leave them plenty of space to operate, while Griezmann will drop slightly deeper to accommodate the inside forwards.
When the ball is on his side of the pitch, Pogba will drift out to offer support to the left-back, as shown in the graphic below. Frenkie de Jong will remain too deep to guard against the counter-attack, with the centre back pairing holding a high line. In periods of sustained possession, the Barcelona team will be laid out something like the graphic below. It is in such scenarios that Pogba could well thrive in the team.
Despite their poor form since last season, the Catalan giants still averaged the highest possession rate in La Liga. They attempted to pass around the opposition to death by continually shifting them out of position with short passing. With the addition of a player like Pogba, they could have a much more direct approach, which they are certainly lacking.
Barcelona averaged ten crosses per game last season, mostly through fullbacks. With the wingers drifting infield, the responsibility falls elsewhere to deliver the ball into the penalty area. Lionel Messi, did the lion’s share of the work, operating deeper than his position on paper. Further, we can see the weightage of Barcelona’s tracking zones and shot direction zones in the graphic below.
This clearly indicates that Barcelona tend to spray the ball from the centre of the field towards the run’s of fullbacks, mainly towards the left flank, meaning the midfielder is often the best positioned to do so.
The below graphic showcase the stats of Barcelona’s current season so far. This makes up a good idea of how Barcelona plays through the middle third a lot having 43% weightage and 35% of the shots for the team comes outside of the box, with the lack of conversion rate lately. Pogba, with his decisive runs, could increase the 18 and 6-yard box activity rate and outside the box conversion rates through his trademark long-range efforts.
The Frenchman uses long passes to switch the play can also become a key tactic. This shits the defence out of position and provides more space to get those crosses in. Again, it was Messi who averaged the second-most long passes in the team — 62. And, leading the tally was, of-course, Jordi Alba with 79 crosses in. In the graphic below, we can see the Messi-Alba connection clearly in two different scenarios.
Pogba would certainly thrive in this role and take the load off Barcelona’s #10. If there is one thing he does well, it’s hitting raking passes across the pitch. Playing in that advanced role, much of Pogba’s responsibility on the ball would be to play two types of passes, those being the outer and inner passes covering the left flank with it as shown in the graphic below.
Just as Pogba did in Euros in 2016, which can be seen in the graphic below, he will also be asked to be available to play decisive passes and shoot from the edge of the penalty area.
For a player who, on average, took almost twice as many shots per game as any of his teammates in previous seasons, he should have no problem playing in a team that, currently is lacking its shooting boots altogether.
Multiple opportunities will be created for the World Cup winner, when the ball is on the right flank, to get into the penalty area and attack the ball. His athleticism and height make him a major threat in the air, and he has shown the ability to capitalize on such scenarios in the past.
Lately, we can see how Sergino Dest crosses into the box is looking for a poacher. If Pogba does make the move, you can expect to see him make decisive runs into the box getting on the end of the crosses.
Pogba can launch rockets with his right foot, and Barcelona should take advantage of it. (Photo by Pakawich Damrongkiattisak/Getty Images)
Of course, all of this is conjecture. Pogba may not move to Barcelona and chose his old club or even Los Blancos given the Zinedine Zidane connection. Looking at it from a tactical point of view, however, the Frenchman might provide some balance to this unbalanced Barcelona team.
For the first summer in a while, Barcelona would have a clear plan for their squad and ideas of how to improve it, with the election of the new president. They may be jogging at a snail’s pace as compared to the spirits of other big five European league clubs, but the current Blaugranas side is going through a lot, politically and bubbling along at a decent rate. That said, bringing Pogba to Barcelona should not be question of if it should be done, but how it should be done.
3 Players Barcelona can sell to ease their financial burden
A debt of €1.173 billion, more than €700 million of which is short term, has sent FC Barcelona down a rabbit hole. The club’s gross mismanagement on both sporting as well as financial levels is no longer a secret. The former board of directors, led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu has consistently spent inordinate amounts of money on ludicrous signings. Most of which have come to bite the club back.
Now, they find themselves in a stickier situation than ever, with an astronomically high wage bill and multiple liabilities to clubs across Europe for signings. In addition, Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona hangs in the balance. If the club are to conduct any business whatsoever, it will have to begin by offloading a few players.
After Ronald Koeman arrived at the club following the disastrous end to the 2019-20 season, a few key names have already been sold. As the initiation of a rebuilding process, Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo, and Ivan Rakitic were all sold. However, these departures have hardly put a dent in Barcelona’s debt.
That being said, Barça Universal takes a look at three potential sales that might help the club with their finances. Players who may not be key parts of the sporting project long term and whose departures will allow for some breathing room in the wage structure, and allow Barcelona to sign a huge talent such as Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland.
It would be a rather disappointing conclusion to what was potentially a wonderful signing. Samuel Umtiti, after signing for Barcelona, was rapidly rising up the ranks as one of the world’s best centre-backs. After his move from Lyon in 2016, he was flying high and quickly displayed why he staked a claim into the Blaugrana’s starting lineup.
But the Frenchman’s fairytale would come to an abrupt halt. After a fantastic second season with Barcelona, Umtiti suffered an injury to his left knee in 2018, just a month before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The defender risked himself to represent his nation, and it ended up being a positive decision as France lifted the coveted prize with Umtiti as one of the key players. He decided not to have surgery as he felt it would worsen his issues.
Ever since then, despite his initial impressions, the injury woes have persisted and have led to many complications. Recurring issues with his meniscus, followed by foot injuries and many other issues, led to a massive decline in form and physicality. The centre-back was never really able to return to his brilliant best. While coach Ronald Koeman does favour the Frenchman, he is definitely not a consistently reliable presence at the back anymore.
Umtiti’s current deal with Barcelona expires in 2023, and given that he is 27 years old may work in favour of the club. He is not too old, and while he is injury-free, he could fetch Barcelona at least some money. The World Cup winner at his best is a fine player, but given the current circumstances, Barcelona can no longer afford to leave things up to chance.
Philippe Coutinho came to Spain with tremendous promise for the fans, backed up by a huge smile on his face. He was genuinely happy to be where he was. His dream of playing for Barcelona was finally a reality. But that optimism sadly did not last far too long.
The midfielder slowed down tremendously in his first full season with the Catalans. He looked out of sorts and lost in strange and unfamiliar systems. When he arrived in January of 2018 from Liverpool, he became Barcelona’s most expensive signing of all time for over €140 million. After two bad seasons and a loan spell at Bayern Munich, he was finally beginning to show small signs of promise under Ronald Koeman this term.
However, the Brazilian has also been sidelined due to a lengthy injury this season, which has extended into worse news. In addition to that, Liverpool are reportedly one of the clubs that Barcelona still owe money to in variables for Coutinho’s transfer. They will be keen on avoiding any more liabilities. And since Coutinho has obviously not come anywhere close to providing a return on Barcelona’s investment in him, his time at the club may be up.
He is also one of the highest earners in the squad, therefore selling him might be imperative.
The midfielder turned right-back has been a polarising figure in the Barcelona fans’ eyes for quite some time now. The 29-year-old’s current contract with Barcelona is set to run out next year and has a release clause of a massive €500 million. Roberto has made some amazing memories with the club, most prominently, his iconic goal against PSG in 2017’s famous ‘Remontada’.
However, since then he has been more or less showing that he is mostly just a utility player. The Spaniard has been unremarkable in a fair few games and has often made rather costly errors. Over time however, he had certainly become one of the heavyweights in the dressing room, which obviously reflects in his salary. This season, he has been struggling with a thigh injury, which he recovered from but then relapsed.
He was a valuable asset to have in the absence of a full fledged right-back who has the so-called ‘Barcelona DNA’. However, with the arrival of Sergino Dest, parting ways with Roberto makes sense from both sporting and financial perspectives.
While Roberto might not be among the players who have constantly underperformed but selling him might be a logical decision for Barcelona because as a player who can play in multiple positions across the pitch, and is in his theoretical prime, the Spaniard will be in demand. Football today requires for players to adapt in various positions and roles, and we have seen Roberto’s capability with the same.
Additionally, as one of the captains of the team, the La Masia graduate might be able to lease off a more than decent amount of cash. Several top teams in the market, including Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and PSG, among others, might be vouching for a right-back soon and could look towards Sergi Roberto.
However, there are also more players like Jordi Alba, Junior Firpo and Neto who could be smart sales. Alba has also been declining rapidly but his offensive output has not yet been replaced. Firpo is already linked to a move away to various clubs after failing to impress at Barcelona. In a nutshell, the Blaugrana certainly have options to sell, in order to continue the rebuild effectively. Easing the financial load by selling and eventually making way for more sensible transfers will be vital for this transitioning side.