Written by Aaryan Parasnis
FC Barcelona have a rich history of talented and accomplished fullbacks. Ever since the dawn of ‘Juego de posicion’, Barça’s fullbacks have had to shoulder a lot of load defensively as well as offensively. They’re key cogs in the wheels of the Blue and Claret outfit. In recent history, however, the left-back position has been rather lacking for Barcelona. Following the vastly successful era of Eric Abidal and Sylvinho, Barça have only had the one technically sound and accomplished left-back in Jordi Alba. The Spaniard joined from Valencia in 2012 and has since made a name for himself as one of the world’s premier left-backs. However, ‘El Ferrari’ has never really had any major competition for his place in the team. While this allowed Alba to hone his skillset and make a name for himself, the team has had problems due to lack of depth.
This summer window of 2019 though, has introduced a very exciting prospect to the Barça camp. A signing that could potentially eliminate the left-back problem in its entirety; the arrival of Junior Firpo from Real Betis. Whether one looks at it from a neutral perspective or a supporter’s perspective, this is quite a well thought out signing. Let us take a look at why Firpo could be such a pivotal signing for Barcelona.
Style of Play
Incorporating fullbacks into a tactical system to squeeze the most out of a team is the norm in football today. A majority of the teams today place emphasis on retaining possession and patiently building up attacks to create clear cut goalscoring opportunities. Gone are the days where players out wide simply cross the ball into the box and hope for the best. That is precisely why an inverted fullback with the qualities of a conventional fullback is an extremely valuable asset to any squad in the world.
In the context of FC Barcelona, a fullback has to be especially aware. He has to have a very high IQ because he has to know when to be dynamic and when to hold his position. Since a very important aspect of creating numerical and positional superiority, an inverted fullback often drifts in centrally to create congestion in midfield, to offer more passing options and allow freedom for the central midfielders. In addition to this, they can also make late overlapping runs to stretch the play and create even more space in wide areas. Jordi Alba has done very well in adapting to this system of play due to his incredible speed, positional awareness, and stamina.
Junior Firpo possesses these very qualities and in fact, might even have a lot more to offer. To the trained eye, Firpo comes across as an absolute gem of a footballer. He is quick, strong, energetic and has a very good eye for spotting a pass. Junior is also a good dribbler and very smart in his movement and passing. Last season, the 22-year-old registered a 69% dribble success rate and averaged an 83% pass completion rate. Very impressive stats for a player who did not play for a huge club like Barcelona, Madrid or Atletico. He is very technically gifted and can keep things simple yet elegant. Additionally, he is already well acquainted with positional play as he has been molded by the very capable brain of Quique Setien.
More Than a Backup
Considering all his immense qualities, Firpo will not be a mere backup to Alba like say, Lucas Digne was. His terrific footballing intelligence will ensure that he is regularly rotated into the squad where he will not only gain valuable experience but also compete for a starting spot with Alba and bring the best out of his compatriot. Considering the fact that Alba has now been an undisputed starter for quite a while, there will be no room for complacency. Additionally, Jordi Alba is now 30 years old and besides the factor of depth, they also had to lineup a potentially long term replacement.
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If one considers Firpo’s hypothetical departure after even just 2 or 3 years, for instance, he will have provided enough time for La Masia boys in Miranda and Cucurella to break into the first team. In that sense, he is the perfect bridge between the current left-back in Alba to the future youngsters of La Masia.
Incredible Value in a Highly Inflated Market
Barça have completed the signing of Junior Firpo for 18million Euros plus 7million Euros in add ons. In today’s transfer market where ludicrous mounds of cash are spent on players regardless of the implications, 25million for a player like Firpo is an absolute steal. Barça have not only found a way to strengthen one of their biggest problem areas (if not the biggest), they have also managed to do by forking out an astonishingly low amount of money.
In conclusion, it is hard to argue that this not a very clever bit of business from the Catalan giants. With the amount of depth and quality this Barça side has this season, there is no denying that the fans will be looking forward to a tremendous campaign this time around. Barcelona have already gathered quite a bit of success off the pitch, now all that remains to be seen is whether they can replicate the same on it.
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