Barcelona have confirmed the signing of defender Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia for £16million. The move displays the Catalan club’s continued deficit in the quality of defensive footballers compared to their attacking counterparts.
The 30-year-old was a left-back for most of his career but has been moved to center-back due to his pace and quality out wide rescinding with age. The Frenchman has been brought in to replace Spanish legend and Barcelona icon Carles Puyol but it doesn’t seem like he’s a long-term replacement. The team has known for years that Puyol wasn’t consistent anymore with injuries happening constantly for the three-time Champions League winner but they never worked hard to replace the most important cog to the spine of their team. When Pep Guardiola was still in charge of Barcelona, he signed Javier Mascherano in 2010 to be a central defender even though the Argentine was a defensive midfielder by trade. This past World Cup showed that the 30-year-old can best influence his side when he’s in front of the back four instead of being a part of the backline.
Guardiola also tried to sign defensive midfielder Javi Martinez to be a center-back for him in Catalonia but his €40 million buyout clause was paid by Bayern Munich. Barcelona has a history of believing in total football since the father of the concept Rinus Michels served two stints there as a manager in the 1970s and his star pupil Johan Cruyff played and managed there himself bringing the club their first Champions League title in 1992. The premise of total football is that players are interchangeable and fluid while depending heavily on technical ability and high work rates from each player but most players just don’t have the skills to learn new positions deep in their careers.
Mathieu in his prime wasn’t even considered a great player as he’s only had two caps for Les Bleus. His first was in 2011 against the United States in a friendly. Barcelona has the audacity to put in his new contract that he has a new buyout clause for €50 million as if any team is stupid enough to pay that for Mathieu. The signing hasn’t had a positive reaction among fans of the club and media in Spain. Former Barcelona defender and Mexican captain Rafael Marquez is baffled by the idea of the acquisition as well.
“I don’t think he has the profile to play for Barcelona and even less so for this price. Hopefully they’ll think well about this and if they’re going to splash out like that, it’s for someone who is actually worthwhile,” said Marquez yesterday on Catalan radio station RAC1.
The 22-time La Liga champions have been linked with many technical central defenders recently like Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels, Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, Liverpool’s Daniel Agger and Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen. David Luiz seemed to be heading to the 26-time Copa Del Rey winners before Paris Saint-Germain upped the ante and bid €50 million for the Brazilian international’s services.
Last week, Mathieu released a statement that expressed his dream to move to Barcelona and play for an elite side:
“I do not hide that for me this is a step forward in my career in every way. It is a reward for my work, my effort, and it is a unique opportunity that any player would like to take. I came to Valencia five seasons ago and this transfer would be benefit all parties involved. During my time here I have always tried to do my best but it’s time I moved forward and ended a cycle which I will always carry in my heart. I will be eternally grateful no matter what.”
No one can deny if Mathieu has worked hard in his career to play for a club like Barcelona but not for the price that the club paid. Only four men, Gabriel Batistuta, Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have ever went for more money in their 30s, and the former Toulouse defender has never been in the class of those gentlemen on the pitch. The Blaugrana did whatever it took to acquire Neymar and Luis Suarez but for a great defender they don’t seem to work as hard. Mathieu will be a symbol to the lack of quality along their backline and they need to understand how important defense is as Atletico Madrid showcased by winning La Liga this past season.