What’s going on with Barcelona’s midfield?

The team has signed Paulinho, while closing the door to home-grown talent like Sergi Samper

Juan I. Irigoyen
Rakitic during Barcelona's match against Madrid on Sunday.
Rakitic during Barcelona's match against Madrid on Sunday.Manuel Queimadelos Alonso (Getty Images,)

Barcelona on Monday announced the signing of Paulinho from Guangzhou Evergrande for €40 million, and the Brazil international, a tough-tackling, high-energy midfielder, is set to be unveiled this week.

Also on Monday, Barcelona told Sergi Samper, a midfielder who has come up through the Spanish side’s youth team, that his services would not be required this season. Barcelona’s treatment of the player highlights the team’s abandonment of home-grown talent.

Without Neymar, Barcelona has been looking to recover balance in the team

Barça changed coach in June and Ernesto Valverde is keen to build a more aggressive team. But what Barcelona need is a player who can make things happen in midfield, as Xavi once did, and that players who have grown up with the club understand how to do.

Samper, now aged 22, turned down an offer from English Premier League side Arsenal when he was 16, a year later, he rejected Chelsea. Last year, when it finally looked like he would find a place at Barcelona, coach Luis Enrique said there was no room for him and he was advised to make move to Valencia. Instead, he went to Granada, where newly appointed manager Paco Jémez said his playmaking style was what he was looking for. After starting for the team just 13 times, Jémez was replaced, and Samper returned to Barcelona, where he still has a contract until 2019.

With just two weeks to go before the summer transfer window closes, Barcelona has told Samper that there was no place for him this season either.

Barcelona has been a midfield club since the days of Johan Cruyff: over the last five seasons it has signed Alex Song, Rakitic, Arda Turan, André Gomes, Denis Suárez, and now Paulinho, at a joint cost of €149.5 million. Of these, only Rakitic has settled in to the position.

Barça changed coach in June and Ernesto Valverde is keen to build a more aggressive team

In contrast, Madrid have signed Kroos, Lucas Silva, Illarramendi, Isco, Modric, Asensio, Kovacic and Ceballos, spending a total of €185 million. With Modric injured, Isco, Kroos, Casemiro and Kovacic dominated the midfield during Sunday’s first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

In recent years, Barcelona has been dazzled by its deadly goal-scoring trio of Luis Suárez, Messi, and Neymar and seems to have forgotten the importance of midfielders, despite Valverde’s suggestions that he understands the importance of playmakers. Now without Neymar, Barcelona has been looking to recover balance in the team, with the pendulum returning to the center of the field, which is why the top transfer target this summer was Marco Verratti.

The Italian wanted to join, but Paris Saint-Germain refused to sell and there is no chance of a deal for the 24-year-old now. Even Xavi has admitted that Verratti was the right choice as his successor in the Barça midfield, while he has also praised Nice's Jean Michael Seri, a player with a similar profile to the former Spain star and also the Italy international. But he will not be making the move to Spain either.

For the time being, Barcelona seems to have abandoned the model created under Cruyff and continued by Guardiola with Xavi.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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