Barcelona have done what Barcelona do best: they’ve splashed out in extravagant fashion on another forward, bordering on a backhand to those who continue to trumpet the need for defensive reinforcements.
It’s the second successive summer in which it has happened (and yes, this summer’s transfer period is far from over). Last summer, the struggles at the back had hit fever pitch. Bayern Munich had annihilated Barca in the semi-final of the Champions League to the tune of 7-0 over two legs. Carles Puyol’s inability to involve himself adequately throughout the season was becoming more pronounced, while his absence alongside Gerard Pique was clearly having an effect on the consistency of the former Manchester United defender.
And once again, Javier Mascherano isn’t a centre-back, nor is Adriano, who was forced into that role on more than one occasion.
Over two summers Barcelona have spent close to £150 million on Neymar and Luis Suarez, and that figure may be higher – it probably is in fairness, due to the ambiguity surrounding Neymar’s fee and the fallout from that transfer episode. But thus far, Barcelona have done nothing to address their weaknesses at the back, while seemingly complicating matters up front.
It’s not that they haven’t been linked with centre-backs. A big talking point in Spain is the potential transfer of Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia to the Camp Nou, which, for the right price, would represent a good piece of business.
Another is the reported targeting of Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, who isn’t coming off his best season, but who nevertheless carries plenty of importance at White Hart Lane.
The Belgian international makes a lot of sense for the La Liga side, with his technical proficiency standing out as something Barcelona demand from their footballers. The issue is at the other end of the table, where Tottenham could very well lose another major star to Spain for the third successive summer.
Spurs have been quiet over these summer months, certainly in comparison to their north London rivals and those who are strengthening just ahead of them in the league table in the top four. And while Vertonghen would command a handsome fee in the ballpark of £30 million, Tottenham can’t afford another setback – especially one of their own making – with plenty of ground to make up already.
Mauricio Pochettino was expected to look to his former club Southampton as a means to filling in the gaps in the squad at White Hart Lane. Instead, the Argentine has seen those names head off to rival Premier League clubs, with Tottenham’s only business thus far coming from the soon-to-be-announced additions of Michel Vorm and Ben Davies from Swansea – good, reliable players, but not the individuals who will play big parts in bridging the gap.
The other issue is that Vertonghen’s sale would necessitate the rebuilding of the back four, much like the club had to do last summer with the midfield and attack. Younes Kaboul can’t be relied upon due to recent injury layoffs, Michael Dawson quickly proved last season that he was no longer up to the task of being a starter at the club, and Vlad Chiriches, while good in spells, still has some way to go to totally convince those who doubt him.
Vertonghen may have had a poor season by his standards last term, but the Belgian international is one of only two players in Tottenham’s defensive setup who could merit a place in one of the Premier League’s legitimate title-challenging teams. The other being Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham can’t afford another season of allowing a wave of newcomers to settle in. There simply isn’t time, with those ahead of them pulling away at great speed and Everton also looking to build on what they achieved last season with Roberto Martinez.
This is when Daniel Levy’s steel will come to be tested. Barcelona may eventually land Mathieu from Valencia, but the Frenchman is 30, and not only do Barcelona need to make a younger addition, they also need to cover themselves for their impending transfer ban. Thus far, they’ve been unsuccessful in their attempts for Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos.
A serious move for Vertonghen looks likely. The player has cast doubt on his future with Tottenham in the past, citing the need for Champions League football, while the allure of a club like Barcelona may be too much to resist.
Gareth Bale’s departure last summer was never in any great doubt, with the same able to be said of Luka Modric the summer before. But Vertonghen isn’t a sure thing. Spurs can still keep hold of their standout defender. Lose him and it could set off the steady stream of high-profile exits from the club, with the view being that there is a genuine inability to combat overtures from the biggest around Europe.
Lose Vertonghen and there’s no telling how long Spurs will be in a state of rebuild.