Outside of Pique and Mathieu, the rest of Barcelona’s centre-backs are currently mired in transfer rumors
Gerard Pique ended the season in exceptional form, especially in Barcelona’s win over Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final. A week later, Real Madrid supporters insulted the Catalan defender at their Champions League victory parade. However, it is more than likely that all of those who are currently jeering Pique will be supporting him again when he travels to France to defend the Spanish colours in the Euro 2016 championship -- a behaviour that is bizarre if you ask me.
Sure, Pique rarely keeps himself out of the media limelight, yet he has proven to be a world-class defender who has excelled consistently for both club and country.
Despite the ongoing controversy surrounding his social media activity, Pique may actually be the one centre-back that Cules aren’t worrying about -- as far as the summer transfer window is concerned, that is. Without a shadow of a doubt, Pique will be in a Barcelona uniform come next season. Given his commanding performances of late, the news of his continuity at the Camp Nou could not be any more welcomed.
Jeremy Mathieu should be expected back as well, though his summer will be filled with more rest than he had anticipated. The French centre-back and left-back worked hard to return from a knee injury for Barcelona’s Copa del Rey match-up with Sevilla and proved his worth after Javier Mascherano’s red card in the first half.
Being named to Didier Deschamps’ 23-man squad for Euro 2016, Mathieu appeared to be on-course to represent his country as they hosted the European championships for the first time since 1984. However, a recent calf injury has forced his removal from the team and he will have to cheer on his countrymen from the stands.
Outside of Pique and Mathieu, the rest of Barcelona’s centre-backs are currently mired in transfer rumors. It should be no surprise that 25-year-old Marc Bartra would want more playing time elsewhere as he enters the prime of his career. The same could be said for Thomas Vermaelen, stuck on the depth chart behind the aforementioned four defenders.
Even with limited playing time, Spain national team manager Vicente Del Bosque was brave enough to select Bartra to his squad for Euro 2016. The Catalan youngster has shown well in the friendlies leading up to the competition and could play a role as a substitute late in a game to defend a lead.
Having been linked to Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and several Spanish clubs, few would blame Bartra for wanting to prove his worth as a starter. While he may have to pass up Champions League football and the surfeit amount of trophies at Barcelona, he could still help a club in the Europa League or a team with a desire for the Premier League title.
To make matters even more intriguing, Bartra has publicly admitted that his release clause has dropped to just €8 million because of a lack of playing time, and that should help with his ability to move elsewhere. However, with Carles Puyol as his agent, negotiations of leaving Barcelona should be very civil and the door should certainly remain ajar for a return to the Camp Nou in the future.
The same can be said for Vermaelen in regards to becoming a starter elsewhere. After dealing with endless injuries at Arsenal but still making 110 appearances with the London club, the Belgian has been rumoured to have a return to England in the works.
It is odd to think that a starter for a country ranked in the top two in the world is sitting behind four other centre-backs, but injuries have curtailed any hopes he could have had of moving ahead of Pique and Mascherano. Much like Bartra, Vermaelen could be a starter on a quality club playing in either the Champions League or the Europa League next season.
The recent news that is most puzzling concerns Javier Mascherano. The prevailing reports say that the midfielder-turned-defender is either unhappy, moving to Juventus in Italy, or both. Playing time is certainly not the issue with the man from Argentina, as the 31-year-old is still excelling next to Pique as the top choice for Luis Enrique at the back.
While no longer a young gun, El Jefecito doesn’t look to be in decline, especially playing as a centre-back, but he may be looking for a role in midfield as his career begins its post-30 decline. A club like Juventus would give him a new challenge and may allow him to move back to his preferred position, where he still plays for his country.
For a few transfer windows, Barcelona have been linked with a number of young centre-backs, but refused to pay the egregious evaluations that clubs had for their future stars. That must change immediately, especially in key players such as Mascherano or Dani Alves end up leaving. Throughout the season, Cules have seen the club linked with Everton’s John Stones, Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte, Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos, Valencia’s Shkodran Mustafi, Las Palmas’ Mauricio Lemos and Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti -- and it is obvious that signing any of them would not come cheap.
For any young centre-back that makes the move to Barcelona, they must understand the issue that is putting three or four of the five current Blaugrana centre-backs in the headlines for looking at all of their options. For Barcelona to sign a defender, they must be good with the ball, quick, and possess phenomenal instincts in terms of positioning to break apart counter-attacks when the likes of Jordi Alba or Aleix Vidal join in the attack.
Any player that reaches Barcelona’s standards as a centre-back could start for most other clubs in the world, but moving to Barcelona doesn’t ensure a starting spot. Any newcomers must be willing to accept their place in Luis Enrique's plans. At PSG, Marquinhos has been dealing with the same issue, stuck behind Thiago Silva and David Luiz. The same can be said for Raphael Varane at Real Madrid behind Pepe and Sergio Ramos.
Often, players capable of playing for the best clubs in the world must decide between consistent playing time or the probable promise of at least one trophy at season’s end. Barcelona’s problem of having too many centre-backs capable of being starters is a fantastic problem to have.
Undoubtedly, the first few weeks of the transfer window will leave Cules feeling constant anxiety about players which could be leaving or arriving. Hopefully, the Catalans' board can ensure the team are even more solid at the back than they currently are once the ball starts rolling again in late August.