There is little question that Barcelona’s main priority this summer will be shoring up the defense. Marca has made it clear that a center-back will be purchased, but the biggest question remains who exactly will be brought in.
TalkSport has reported that Hummels is Barcelona’s No. 1 choice at center-back this summer. But the club does have other options. An eight-man shortlist has made its way around the rumor mill.
Barcelona centre back options: Hummels, Kompany, David Luiz, Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Agger, Inigo Martinez, Marquinhos, Rakitskiy [md]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) March 28, 2013
Tito Vilanova will be looking for a true starter who can immediately slot into the backline and make it better. The days of converting and experimenting are over. It is time that the Catalans add a world-class defender to their ranks.
Carles Puyol’s time as a starter is behind him.
Javier Mascherano has done well filling in for the captain, but is still not a true defender. Marc Bartra and Marc Muniesa are seen are future stars, but that time may be a long ways away.
So why would Barcelona shift focus from Hummels, who is arguably one of the best defenders in the world, to a young defender like Martinez?
Spanish paper Marca has reported that Barcelona is targeting three players this summer. The club needs a center-back, a goalkeeper and is focused on bringing Neymar to Catalonia.
With such glaring needs, money will have to be spent wisely. It is believed that Vilanova will have a 50 million euro budget this summer, certainly not enough to bring in their top targets.
Barcelona have a transfer budget of around 50M for the coming summer transfer window, to which transfer fees from sales could be added. [md]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) February 14, 2013
Not only will Barcelona have to sell players if they are to have enough to afford the players they want, but they will have to make smart purchases.
Hummels, as well as other top targets, could cost the Catalan club an excess of 30 million euros. This would not leave much for a keeper and the purchase of Neymar.
Transfermarket.co.uk has listed Martinez at five million euros.
Barcelona could realistically purchase the young defender on the cheap, which would leave the bulk of their budget intact.
The Youth of Inigo Martinez
Vilanova does not merely want a top defender to pair with Gerard Pique. He is looking for someone who will be just as much a part of the future as the present.
Martinez will turn 22 in two months.
The Spanish defender has proven that he is already a great player, but it is his ability to improve that piques Barcelona’s interest.
Real Sociedad’s star is very much a player for the future. He has showcased his talents for the Spanish youth teams and is believed to be one of the best young defenders in the country.
Purchasing Martinez would not only meet Barcelona’s need of a defender now, but would keep the position in check for years to come.
No matter who Barcelona brings in, they will have to learn the system and how to play with new teammates. For Martinez, this may not be much of an issue.
Players such as Hummels will also need to learn the language and spend time getting comfortable in Spain before they can be expected to perform their best.
Martinez has played his entire career in Spain and is already familiar with everything he will face at Barcelona.
The young defender knows the style of play from competing with the national youth side and is already close to some of the Barcelona stars of the future. Simply put, Martinez would fit right into the team.
The Perfect Player
Above all else, Barcelona is looking for the perfect defender to fit their need. Martinez has been drawing many comparisons to Puyol and rightly so.
He is of a very similar size to the current Blaugrana captain and plays an identical style of game. Like Puyol, Martinez plays with a very physical nature and actually has the best traits that are found in the Barcelona man.
The young defender is extraordinarily strong in the air, something found in Puyol, despite standing 5’11”. But by far, it is his ability to read the game and lead a defense that has made Martinez stand out.
Martinez is a very successful defender and has led Real Sociedad to one of the best seasons in club history.
He enjoys an 80 percent successful tackle rating, much better than any Barcelona defender. But Martinez also boasts nearly 60 percent success in aerial battles. The young defender would also fit in nicely with Barcelona’s passing game.
The 21-year-old has secured more than 80 percent passing on the season and is known for being highly proficient in playing both short and long balls. But it is the fact that Martinez has yet to make a defensive error this season that will make most Cules happy.
Vilanova could gain from Inigo’s ability to defend in the air and make smart plays. But at the end of the day, it would be a success if Barcelona could bring in a player almost identical to Puyol.
Should Inigo Martinez be Barcelona's Main Target?
In some ways, Martinez could well be the next Puyol for Barcelona and for Spain.
In closing, no one will argue that Martinez is a better player than Hummels. The German star could very well be the best defender in the world.
But for his price, Barcelona’s current needs and the fact that Martinez is still growing despite already being one of the best young defenders in the world, the Spanish defender may be the best choice for the Catalan club.
Note that all statistics courtesy of Squawka.com.
Who should be Barcelona's main target this summer? Could Martinez be the perfect replacement for Puyol? Don't forget to leave your thoughts and comments below.
Tre' Atkinson. Follow me on Twitter for more discussions on Inigo Martinez, Barcelona and La Liga.