Exchanging the 23-year-old Brazilian for the 30-year-old Bosnian has no sporting sense, but the Blaugrana have to balance the books
Lionel Messi knew little about Arthur when the midfielder arrived at the Camp Nou.
The Brazilian joked in the summer of 2018 that an additional advantage of joining Barcelona would be the opportunity to verify if Lionel Messi “is from this planet or not.”
Like many of us, Arthur often wondered if the six-time Ballon d’Or winner was truly human.
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However, Messi was not as familiar with Arthur’s talents. Therefore, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that the new arrival’s playstyle bore a striking resemblance to that of a former teammate.
“I didn’t know much about Arthur, but he looks like Xavi,” said the Argentine. “He is very safe and reliable. He has the style of La Masia: he plays short passes, without losing the ball.
“He understood very quickly, the team dynamics.”
Those Xavi comparisons kept coming during Arthur’s impressive debut season at Camp Nou.
In fact, perhaps the biggest compliment one could do is that Barcelona always seemed like a better team with him in the starting lineup.
He was ridiculously comfortable in possession of the ball, and he moved it quickly and effectively.
Even Xavi was impressed.
“I see myself in Arthur”, said the icon of Barça Radio Catalunya. “Think fast and you still have work to do, because I improved my game at Barça and it would not have been so good at another school.
“But Arthur seems mature. The priority in the middle of the field is not to lose the ball and it makes it look easy. He plays well and consistently.
“I see great potential in him.”
However, he will not have the opportunity to notice in Barcelona.
How objective revealed, Arthur will have a doctor in Turin on Sunday before an end-of-season transfer to Juventus.
He clearly didn’t want to go. And fans didn’t want him to leave, certainly not as part of what is effectively a swap deal involving Miralem Pjanic.
Arthur is not having a good season. Even before coach Quique Setien said he was distracted by the transfer talk, the 23-year-old performed poorly.
Setien’s appointment in January should have been a positive development for Arthur, given the possession-oriented style of play of the former Betis boss.
However, Arthur may have regressed. It has become increasingly inconsistent and seemed slow and heavy on the ball.
In fact, it was no coincidence that Setien’s decision to replace him with Riqui Puig in last Tuesday’s crucial victory over Athletic Club changed the whole complexion of the match.
The young man brought the energy and incision that had previously characterized Arthur’s game.
So the problem is not so much that Barça is selling Arthur, but that they are replacing him with Pjanic.
If Arthur has been poor this season, Pjanic has been worse.
The Bosnian failed to adapt to Maurizio Sarri’s soccer brand at Juventus and, rightly so, has been deemed to be over the requirements.
Everything that Barça is going to do with him is unknown, since Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and the aforementioned Puig have better options in the middle of the field.
Pjanic was an excellent footballer, but he is now 30 years old and obviously on the decline. The last thing this Barça team needs is another aging player who has clearly passed his prime.
It is a firm that does not make sense from a sports perspective, but then, this is not really about football, it is about business.
Right now, Barcelona is more concerned with balancing the books than building a winning team in the Champions League.
That is not surprising, of course.
They may have passed this year’s Deloitte Football Money League, but they’ve spent close to a billion euros in the past six years and possibly only made five good signings: Luis Suárez, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Samuel Umtiti, De Jong and Arthur.
However, Barça is not only wasting money, it is also wasting Messi’s last years at the highest level.
The Argentine turned 33 last Wednesday and remains an outstanding player. The problem is that Barcelona has never depended so much on his genius.
The Blaugrana have scored 72 league goals this season; Messi has been directly involved in more than half of them (21 goals, 17 assists).
He has always published ridiculous numbers in that regard, of course. However, the important thing now is how involved Messi is in the Barça game.
He has had 2,292 league touches this season, which is more than he accumulated throughout the 2008-09 season (2158), and almost the same center as Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets this period (2457).
Messi also completed 151 dribbles: no one else has achieved more than 43 (De Jong).
Essentially, the captain has to do everything. You have to drop deep for things to happen in midfield and then move forward to set up or finish opportunities.
It is a ridiculous situation for a club the size and income of Barcelona. But it is no longer surprising.
After all, Barça have required a replacement for Luis Suárez for two years, but somehow they found themselves in a position where they had to do an emergency signing in February just to have enough attacking numbers for the rest of the Bell.
The subsequent suspension of the game caused by the coronavirus outbreak only further highlighted the deep divisions at Camp Nou and the scale of the club’s financial problems.
However, in reality, one only needs to see them play to understand how poorly the club is run, with its star player now surrounded by a support cast far below standard.
Barça would like to label themselves “more than a club”, but at the moment they are less than Messi deserves.