It’s taken until January, the midway point of Alex Song’s first season at Barcelona to really put in a good performance. Has he finally displayed his qualities at the Camp Nou, or was it a reflection of the opposition? One way or another, Song had his best game for Barcelona against Cordoba in the Copa del Rey on Thursday night.
But it’s not enough. It never will be enough. Is this really what the player wanted? It was reported by a number of outlets that Song had become too big for his boots at Arsenal, considering himself well above the regular routines and rules in place for everyone else. There’s no doubting that he thought himself as a soon-to-be Barcelona player last year well before his move, or at the very least an ex-Arsenal player.
He was bought into the club because Javi Martinez was deemed too expensive, and that’s perfectly understandable; while the former Athletic Bilbao player has started brightly at the Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich certainly feel an incredibly heavy fee was spent on the player. But it doesn’t disguise the fact that big money was spent on Alex Song too. He was promised and showcased to be the versatile player that would fill in comfortably at both centre-half and in the midfield. Since his arrival and up until his most recent game, neither of those promises have come to fruition.
For starters, Song has had to ditch his devil-may-care attitude and really pick up the tactical importance of being a Barcelona player. No more wandering off out of position and casually jogging back when possession was lost: no one, team-mate or coach would stand for that sort of attitude. And you could see as much in his early appearances for the club; Song had a knack for picking out a pass and his technique had been very good at Arsenal, but something was holding him back and forcing him to play the simple passes that make up Barcelona’s game.
However, that was all from a midfield position. At centre-back, he’s been nothing short of a huge disappointment. It’s largely due to the fact that Barcelona’s central defensive partnership need to play a very specific game, but it’s also because Song isn’t a natural centre-back. Playing in that position at various stages of his Arsenal career didn’t necessarily mean he should have been purchased with the idea of using him in defence. With Barcelona’s lack of numbers at the back due to injury—remember, Eric Abidal has also played very well at centre-back in the past — a natural defender should always have been high up on the agenda.
So was it worth it? It’s obviously too soon to tell, but Alex Song will never displace anyone in Barcelona’s midfield three as a matter of talent or application. It’s very difficult to think of a better holding midfielder in the game at the moment than Sergio Busquets, and finding a player who plays the game exactly as Barcelona need Busquets to do is bordering on impossible.
Song was also given licence, either by Arsene Wenger or himself, to push further up the pitch and play a role in the build up of goals. But again, that’s not his natural game. And again, he won’t displace anyone in the Barcelona team for that position.
For Song, and like Alex Hleb, Martin Caceres and a few others in recent years, it will remain a case that he simply won’t be good enough to make a lasting impression at the Camp Nou. He’s a good player, but one who perhaps didn’t think about the huge likelihood of warming the bench for much of his Barcelona career, however long it may be.
He doesn’t bring anything to the team that isn’t already there, and with La Masia heaving with talent waiting for their chance, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Barcelona move Song on come the end of the season.