The Spanish season starts in just over a week, and yet a lackadaisical Barcelona have still yet to land arguably the most-needed reinforcement to their squad—a centre-back. Having Neymar pottering about the pitch is all fine and dandy, but no use at all if Brazilian scores three and a diminutive, dawdling defence lets in four.
Barça may be hammering small East Asian nations in a preseason jaunt, yet July’s friendly against Bayern Munich showed that the Catalan club are still terribly vulnerable at the back against anyone over 5'6".
For the past couple of seasons, patches have been jammed in place to cover the area, with Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets squeezing into the back four. When times have really got desperate, even Alex Song and Marc Bartra have turned out in defence.
It is easy to see why Barça have found it so hard to find a new centre-back, though. To play for one of the world’s best clubs, you have to be one of the world’s best players. Strangely enough, rivals are unwilling to hand over their top talent no matter what money is offered. Barcelona are looking for a tricky combination of someone who is elegant and good on the ball, yet a physical brute who can scare strikers into submission.
Imperious stoppers of that nature are few and far between in world football. Those that are readily available to buy are on a shortlist which is actually a blank piece of paper. Thiago Silva is staying with Paris Saint-Germain, which now sees the Spanish champions linked bids for Liverpool’s Daniel Agger and David Luiz of Chelsea by The Telegraph, citing reports in Spain.
This frustrating international search should perhaps be put on hold with Barça looking closer to home for their missing jigsaw piece. Within La Primera there are three defenders who could fit the bill. Or almost, anyway. The very good news for Barcelona is that all are available at the right price.
Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad)
A call-up to the Spain squad for a friendly clash against Ecuador on August 14 is a reward for the rapid progress of the stopper from San Sebastian. The 22-year-old has only had two top-flight campaigns under his belt, yet the Basque defender has been a crucial part of the remarkable recent success of Real Sociedad, who finished last season in fourth.
As to be expected from any footballer from the Basque Country, Martinez is a strong physical presence and prolific to boot having played in 34 league games last season, popping up with four goals. The speciality of the Real Sociedad rampager, though, is the halfway-line special.
Miranda (Atletico Madrid)
It always feels odd talking about Atletico’s tight back four, but that is what they Rojiblancos have had ever since the arrival of the Brazilian Miranda two years ago. The defender is one of the most unheralded signings of recent seasons, but fans see him as a calming presence alongside the occasionally erratic Diego Godin.
Miranda is firm, strong, elegant and excellent on the ground, which is a must to be part of the Barcelona back four. Atletico Madrid’s accounts are not the most healthy, so a cheeky bid at the right price would be swiftly answered with an affirmative.
Adil Rami (Valencia)
When the French international arrived in 2011, he was the bees knees of La Liga. Imperious at the back and a dangerous weapon in the opposition box, Rami was the man to anchor the Valencia defence for years to come. In April, though, the stopper was seen as a more disruptive influence off the pitch, reportedly injuring himself dancing to disco tunes on a jaunt to Lille.
Aside from the obvious jokes to be made about being a perfect partner for the sociable Gerard Pique, Rami has experience of La Liga, the Champions League and the international level. Technically speaking, that would make the Valencia man the best choice for Barcelona out of the three candidates should they be looking closer to home for defensive reinforcements.