Right now, Barcelona are the footballing equivalent of a supermarket customer dashing to the checkout, bottle of booze in hand, with only a few minutes left before 10pm. Money is no issue. After the sale of Neymar, their wallet is bursting. Time, however, is a problem, with just a few weeks of the transfer window remaining. What’s more, not much, at this time, is left on the shelf. They might have to make do with a bottle of Babycham.
Indeed, Barca’s reaction to losing Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain last week has been rather scattergun. No one replacement can be found for the Brazilian and so the Catalans seem set on signing a number of players in the hope that accumulatively they can compensate for the absence of Neymar across their front line.
Philippe Coutinho appears to be their number target, with the Camp Nou outfit cranking up their efforts to break the playmaker out of Liverpool this week. Paulo Dybala is another target having impressed for Juventus in the Champions League last season. Meanwhile, a deal for Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele is also reported to be close.
Not one of that trio will play the same way, and in the same position, as Neymar, though. It’s not just that the Brazilian was an exceptional talent, it’s that he was a tactical linchpin for Barcelona. And so they can’t just target top players in the hope that their quality will see a gap plugged in their lineup. They need someone who can stretch the pitch in the same way, creating space for Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez through the middle.
So why haven’t the Catalans made a move for Alexis Sanchez? If Ernesto Valverde needs a figure to play in the Neymar role, he could do a lost worse than returning for the player who fulfilled that role before the Brazilian. What’s more, Sanchez may well be on the market having, by all accounts, expressed his desire to leave the Emirates Stadium this summer.
Of course, Sanchez has proved himself as a Barcelona player before. The Chilean was a success at the Camp Nou, becoming a fans’ favourite in his time there. He was a goal threat, scoring 39 times in 88 appearances for the Catalans, but he, in much the same way as Neymar, was a tactical totem.
Sanchez was the one who operated in the wide areas. At that time, he also had Pedro to perform a similar duty, with Messi more of a False Nine than he was under Luis Enrique, but nonetheless, he was the type of player that Barcelona need now.
At this moment, with the club in a fragile position, Barcelona needs certainty wherever it can find it. Coutinho, Dybala and Dembele are all exceptional players who would seem to fit the Barca mould, but as is the case with any new signing, there is a large degree of risk. With Sanchez, that risk would be minimised. After all, they already know he can do the job.
Yet, so far, there has been no suggestion that Sanchez could pitch up at the Camp Nou once again, with Manchester City and Pep Guardiola still leading the chase for the Chilean. In fact, it seems more likely that Sanchez will remain at Arsenal for another season that pull on the Barcelona colours again this summer. Understandably, the Gunners are digging their heels in, hinting that they are willing to let Sanchez’s contract run down purely to get another year out of him.
But the fact that the prospect of Sanchez’s return hasn’t been raised illustrates the panic Barca are approaching their current situation with. This is a time for cool heads and logical thinking. Follow those principles and the Catalans would surely look in the direction of North London.