Barcelona have been on the lookout for a quality and consistent attacker that could supplant the trio
After a winter window full of rumours that Celta de Vigo’s Nolito would be making his way to the Camp Nou, Barcelona never pulled the trigger and failed to splash the cash required to secure his services.
It is no secret why Barcelona are taking such a hard look at the 29-year-old Spanish winger: Manager Luis Enrique has identified Nolito as his main target for offensive reinforcement. Nolito, had previously played for the current Barcelona manager at Barcelona B before the two were reunited in 2013 at Celta de Vigo, he scored 14 goals for Los Celestes -- earning him top scorer honors for the Galician club that season.
Aside from a reunion with Luis Enrique, Nolito’s history with Barcelona’s system, even if it was never with the first team, is always a key that the Barcelona board look for when evaluating players. From Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba to Cesc Fabregas, players who have left La Masia or the reserves are usually seen as the first options for recruits once they have begun to realize their potential to compete in Barcelona’s first team.
After Pedro’s departure last season, Barcelona have been on the lookout for a quality and consistent attacker that could supplant the trio of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Injuries and occasional rest could get this player a few starts, but they wouldn’t expect to find themselves in the starting line-up often.
If the €18 million euros that would trigger Nolito’s release clause is the price that Barcelona are willing to pay for the attacking insurance that he may provide, then the Barcelona brass may not have to do much thinking on whether or not to pull the trigger. 12 goals and seven assists in 29 La Liga appearances may not be of the same caliber of the supernatural record by the MSN trident, but playing alongside the three South American superstars could bring Nolito to an even higher level of performance.
The allocation of funds this offseason should always weigh heavily on the minds of the men who could make the transfer happen. With the departures of Dani Alves and Marc Bartra, money may be needed in adding both a centre-back and a right-back. Yet, Luis Enrique seems to trust Aleix Vidal and Sergi Roberto at right-back, and Barcelona may have enough to splash on a young centre-back even if they purchase Nolito.
Nevertheless, if not Nolito, Barcelona would need to invest in a younger attacker. Wanting to capitalise on the prime of Lionel Messi’s career should not be an indictment on Barcelona’s apparent inability to nurture talent into their first team anymore.
A young player like Munir El Haddadi was given time in the Copa del Rey last season and did fairly well, and Barcelona are apparently ready to be patient with him. However, there was no immediate room for Croatian sensation Alen Halilovic, so he was sent on loan to Sporting Gijon for playing time. In even more gloomy news, Sandro won't be at the Camp Nou next season.
It has been proven that to win Champions League titles, it most often takes experience and players that can be counted on when they only have one opportunity in a match. Young players must be brought along at their own pace, and players could even use the late-blooming Nolito as the example that a player can always be improving, even as he approaches 30 years of age.
Nolito’s pedigree when he only has one opportunity may be tested during the Euro 2016 tournament, a sort of final audition for a potential transfer to Barcelona. Among Alvaro Morata, Pedro, Aritz Aduriz and Lucas Vazquez, Nolito may actually end up being the most important attacker for Spain. While he is heading into the summer tournament in France with under ten caps, he has already managed four goals in the last week in two friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina and South Korea.
Nolito can stake his claim as a top winger in the tournament with a few goals and assists against the likes of the Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia and whoever else Spain may face in future rounds. While the Euros may not play much into effect in the decision on whether or not to sign the Spanish winger, it would definitely be a factor if his performances were excellent.
In the immediate future, the Barcelona board may want to focus their attention on filling some of the other pressing matters before they look to bring in another attacker for the bench. Denis Suarez, who looks to be mere days away from his own return to Catalunya, can also play on the wing and had five goals and eleven assists last season with Villarreal.
With the number of rumours swirling around the future of the backline and Marc Bartra already moving on, Barcelona may want to prioritise a young centre-back. Having said that, there is no reason why Barcelona shouldn’t bolster their squad by adding a former pupil of Luis Enrique and one of the best players in La Liga last season in Nolito.