The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder can bring about more midfield excellence at the Catalan club and is the statement signing needed to challenge Real
There is still some anger among Barcelona fans after the club’s disappointing end to the season. Only around 8,000 supporters turned up at Camp Nou on Saturday to pay tribute to the 25th anniversary of their team’s first European Cup. After seeing Real Madrid clinch La Liga and also the Champions League, many were not in the mood to celebrate past glories.
Icons such as Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov and even Pep Guardiola were in town to commemorate the date: two and a half decades since Barca’s brilliant Dream Team beat Sampdoria at Wembley to claim their maiden European Cup. There was a seven-a-side match against Benfica (rivals in the semi-finals in 1992), a video to recall the victory and a mock celebration as the players lifted a replica of the famous trophy.
The real one, however, belongs to Real right now and that is all too fresh in the minds of many Barca fans. And perhaps that is why, on Sunday, the Bernabeu was packed out as many of Madrid’s own legends lined up in a friendly match against a Roma XI.
At Camp Nou on Saturday, the biggest cheers in an eerily empty stadium were reserved for Guardiola. Because despite winning the treble under Luis Enrique, Barca have not swept aside their rivals with the same style and swagger since Pep walked away in 2012. And now Madrid look like being in a position to take over as the dominant force in Spain and Europe.
A statement signing this summer is now needed to restore some optimism in the Catalan capital and Marco Verratti ticks the boxes. Having moved away from the juego de posición philosophy that made this team so special, there is hope that Barca will return to their roots under new coach Ernesto Valverde.
Ever since Xavi departed after helping Barca win the treble in 2014-15, Barca’s brilliance in attack has papered over the cracks in a midfield lacking a pertinent plan. But if the Catalans are to challenge Zinedine Zidane’s side in the coming campaigns, they will need more than the inspiration of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Verratti is almost a carbon copy of Xavi. He is, at least, the closest a player can come to a like-for-like replacement for the World Cup winning Spain star – and that is why Barca are so keen to recruit the Italian international this summer.
A midfield masterclass from the 24-year-old helped PSG beat Barca 4-0 at the Parc des Princes in the Champions League in February and his team-mate Blaise Matuidi later said: “When Verratti was down on the ground with an injury, I told Iniesta that Marco was his successor and he replied that he thought the same.”
Iniesta turned 33 last month, but showed in 2016-17 that he still has plenty to offer and a move for Verratti would give Barca a midfield trio similar stylistically to the one which saw the team triumph so spectacularly in Guardiola’s great reign.
At Real, Zidane is assembling the world’s strongest squad and the French coach has a wealth of options at his disposal, including a number of midfielders – such as Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Isco and Marco Asensio – that not so long ago would have appeared more suited to Barca’s style of play.
Meanwhile, mistakes have been made at Camp Nou. Thiago Alcantara was allowed to leave the Catalan club, as well as Cesc Fabregas, while players like Alex Song and more recently Andre Gomes are nowhere near good enough – or even the right fit – to make Barca’s midfield great again. Such is the quality of Verratti, however, that he would improve any team in the world.
With Madrid so strong, Barca require a better tactical plan. There is a new coach in place and a new shirt has been unveiled too. Some supporters have already put Verratti’s name on their kit for next season and they will now hope the transfer goes ahead.
Even Xavi agrees. “Verratti would be the ideal signing for Barcelona in my opinion,” he said in March. “I think Verratti is a bit like me. He always goes in search of the ball quite deep on the pitch and then takes it forward and dictates play.
“Verratti is small just like me and he never loses the ball. His technique is incredible. He is a player I would love to see at Barcelona.”
So the number six shirt, currently worn by Denis Suarez, lies in wait and Verratti appears set on a move to Barca as well – probably ever since his PSG side collapsed at Camp Nou in a 6-1 loss to the Blaugrana back in March.
After all the average players signed by Barca last summer, it is time for a game-changer to be brought in at Camp Nou and Verratti has the backing of Xavi, Iniesta, the fans and the board. The Italian can help bring about a return to the Tiki Taka style that made this team so special – and he could also be key to wrestling back power from rivals Real over the next few seasons.