The imminent departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain leaves Barcelona in an unenviable position with just one month to go in the summer transfer window.
The club are now light in two positions within their starting line-up and are about to have a cool £197 million burning a hole in their pocket.
However this could actually prove more of a hindrance than a help with most clubs in Europe determined not to sell their best players this close to the beginning of the campaign.
Midfield must be bolstered
Long before talk of Neymar leaving for Ligue 1 had even surfaced it was abundantly clear that Los Cules needed a vast injection of quality in the centre of midfield.
Ivan Rakitic is a resourceful player but has found himself less and less effective at the Camp Nou as he has aged. Sergio Busquets is as wonderful a footballer as ever but fitness issues are catching up to him and he often receives next to no help from other midfielders whilst Andres Iniesta, at 33 years old, is nowhere near the force he once was.
Lionel Messi is believed to have made clear his feelings on the club’s ailing midfield during the protracted negotiations on his latest contract extension and it seems amazing that just under a month since the Argentine icon penned his latest contract, there has still been no concrete steps taken to strengthen this area.
The summer started with Barcelona and PSG at loggerheads over Marco Verratti with the Italian the Catalan giants’ first choice signing this summer. The Parisien club held firm and it looks like the former Pescara star will not be moving clubs this year.
Now after hiring Mino Raiola as his new agent the market for the midfielder will be significantly more open next summer but for now he remains in the French capital.
Paulinho the answer?
Barcelona have since been forced to move onto former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho. Paulinho was outstanding in Brazil during his time with Corinthians as he helped the club to a Club World Cup triumph; however his spell in England is mostly remembered as an abject failure.
A move to China followed yet now Barcelona are chasing the 29-year-old in a deal that has in truth left the whole of the continent flabbergasted.
Of course it must be noted that Paulinho has found the best form of his career in terms of the national team over the last 12-15 months and may well do a job at Barcelona, but a truly elite addition he does not make.
Barcelona had been trying to do a deal with Guangzhou Evergrande at around £20 million early on in the window but the Chinese club were resistant to any approach. The window for incomings in the Chinese Super League has now closed which makes paying his £36 million release clause the only plausible route to Paulinho’s signature.
It is difficult to assess such a move due to how long the Brazilian has been playing outside of Europe. He would add something to Barcelona’s midfield but it would be nowhere near enough to push them back into a position where winning LaLiga and the Champions League would be a serious possibility.
At such a price it would be an expensive amount for a player who doesn’t necessarily solve their problems and holds next to no resale value. It does however highlight the lack of truly elite midfielders available on the market at this time.
The dearth of available quality midfielders
Paul Pogba can quite easily be considered as one of the best three midfielders in the world even if his debut season at Old Trafford didn’t produce the numbers to back that claim up.
He will be much better this term. Now Pogba is the calibre of player Barcelona’s midfield needs and unfortunately only Verratti really comes close.
After failing to sign the Italian you are dropping to the next tier which holds players like Emre Can, Dele Alli, Ander Herrera and Arturo Vidal. None of which are attainable at this time.
You can see just why Barcelona are struggling to strengthen in this area and the timing of Neymar’s exit hardly helps them. It also weakens Ernesto Valverde’s front-line significantly with the famed Messi, Suarez and Neymar trio now merely a duo of two of South America’s finest.
Signing a replacement is a must
Valverde needs to sign a wide forward in order to keep the team the potent attacking force they have been for the past decade because the returning Gerard Deulofeu is not up to standard, irrespective of how positive his six months in Milan were.
Obviously you could argue that after the Neymar debacle, in which the 25-year-old wants to leave in order to step out of Messi’s shadow, allowing an academy graduate to take his place in the first-team would be beneficial for Barcelona.
He would have no qualms about not being the absolute star figure and would at the very least be productive in a much better team than he has played with for the past three seasons.
With that being said there is no wow-factor there, nothing to get supporters enthused ahead of another campaign where fierce rivals Real Madrid are the standout team in European football.
The recent friendly between Los Cules and Manchester United in Washington illustrated just how important Barcelona’s attacking trio were to the team’s success.
A United team that is still in development were completely comfortable against a Barcelona team when they had the ball either in their own defensive zone or in midfield. The issues came when Messi, Suarez and Neymar had possession near United’s goal. Jose Mourinho’s side had absolutely no answer and were torn apart by the trio, in truth the scoreline should have been more than 1-0 at half-time.
What was alarming was how ordinary the other parts of Barcelona’s team looked and if they lose Neymar and don’t replace him with a player of outstanding quality or at the very least one with world class potential then there will be worries about whether the team can rely on their attack to win them matches in the Champions League.
Dembele the answer?
Ousmane Dembele is a player who stands out as he fits in both of the aforementioned categories. His first season with Borussia Dortmund illustrated him to be a wide forward of outstanding quality but at just 20 years old he has the potential to be a Ballon d’Or winner.
Earlier in the summer Dortmund may have been more receptive to a high offer but now it is almost a non-starter. With the opening Bundesliga fixtures taking place in just over two weeks it would take a monumental offer to tempt the German giants to part with their star player.
This is another case where Barcelona’s new found disposable wealth could be a problem. Dembele has a contract in Germany which runs until 2021 with no embedded release clause.
Dortmund have no reason to sell and nothing can force them to so why wouldn’t they ask for a transfer fee that at least equals the £161 million Kylian Mbappe is expected to leave Monaco for? Dembele is just as talented and more experienced.
Mixed summer window for Europe’s elite
Transfers have been endeavours of varying success for Europe’s elite teams this summer with clubs who are willing to pay asking prices getting their players quickly whilst others who wish to haggle are left sweating over deals going through.
Other clubs have abandoned pursuits altogether as they feel the market simply isn’t stable enough to enter at this time.
Barcelona have struggled looking for value all summer and on the eve of losing one of their very best players it is beginning to look increasingly difficult that they will be able to replace him and then further strengthen the midfield suitably.
It is going to be a busy month for the Catalan club and how successful they are in recruiting players could severely influence just how successful new coach Valverde is throughout his first season in charge.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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