The latest rumours surrounding Barcelona manager Luis Enrique's top transfer targets naturally centre on Liverpool striker Luis Suarez. The ultra-controversial Uruguay star's arrival at the Camp Nou is apparently imminent.
But while Barca and Liverpool continue to negotiate the most favourable fee possible, Enrique still has his sights set firmly on Valencia centre-back Jeremy Mathieu.
However, Enrique's commitment to landing the experienced French stopper will be tested by Valencia's demands over the required fee. Here's a rundown of the latest rumours:
Barca Must Pay €20 Million for Mathieu
Barcelona's need for reinforcements at the heart of their defence is obvious. Javier Mascherano is a midfielder who labours admirably out of position. Meanwhile, Gerard Pique is coming off a mediocre season by his normally exemplary standards.
But despite how pressing the need for a new centre-back is, Mathieu seems like a strange choice. The 30-year-old has seen his best years and is certainly not the most dynamic athlete.
However, Enrique remains keen on the big and powerful Frenchman. But if he expects to get him, the Barca boss must meet Mathieu's release clause.
That clause can be triggered by a bid of €20 million, according to Goal.com reporter Matt Jones, who has stated that is the only fee Valencia will accept:
Valencia president Amadeo Salvo has told Barcelona they must pay Jeremy Mathieu's buyout clause if they wish to take the Frenchman to Camp Nou.
The Blaugrana have reportedly made 30-year-old Mathieu one of their top targets in their search for new defensive options, with the player himself believed to be keen on a switch.
Salvo, however, is adamant he will not negotiate over the transfer fee, telling Barca to match the €20 million fee release clause if they wish to open talks with the player.
That is certainly a steep price to pay for a player who is closer to the end of his career than the start. Though Mathieu is a rugged stopper, one also accomplished on the ball, he seems like a short-term fix to a long-standing problem.
However, Barca's pursuit of one of the game's best, yet most divisive, attackers is likely to limit the spending power they can commit to other areas. Enrique may feel Mathieu is an easy get for a position that must be solidified ahead of the new season.
Suarez Signing Getting Closer
Sky Sports has reported that Luis Suarez could be a Barcelona player as early as the end of this weekend:
Talks between the clubs are ongoing, with only the fee for the striker's services the wrangling point.
Liverpool are holding out for £80m for their star forward - a sum that would activate a release clause in his contract - while Barcelona hope to lure him for a figure in the region of £60m.
FIFA have already confirmed that Suarez will be allowed to have a medical ahead of a transfer, despite receiving a four-month ban from football.
Liverpool Echo reporter James Pearce has suggested that the fee is not an issue. He maintains Barca have met the considerable release clause Liverpool have placed on Suarez, although Pearce believes the deal will take a little longer to conclude:
Luis Suarez is on the brink of leaving Liverpool FC after Barcelona agreed to pay his release clause of around £75million.
The structure of the deal still needs to be thrashed out but the ECHO understands the transfer could be completed as early as next week.
Negotiations between the clubs began in London on Wednesday and progress has been swift.
Many may wince at the fees being mooted for a player currently shrouded in disgrace. A third incident of biting an opponent has landed Suarez with a deserved global ban.
That is enough to make him toxic in the eyes of many football people. However, speaking strictly in terms of his incredible talent on the pitch, Suarez is absolutely worth £75 million.
Should Barcelona Risk £75 Million On Luis Suarez?
He is a wonderfully gifted attacker, who is at once a prolific goalscorer, as well as a stylish creator. The Liverpool star's fluid and crafty dynamism will be the perfect fit for Barca's brand of intricate, possession-based flair.
Perhaps still stung by the memory of United's two defeats to Barcelona in UEFA Champions League finals, Scholes has questioned how Suarez could combine with Lionel Messi, per Paddy Power:
If Luis Suarez does sign for Barcelona from Liverpool, will Lionel Messi ‘accept’ him? Suarez is a centre forward and he won’t want to play out wide. I can’t see Suarez and Messi linking well together. It seems to me, if Messi likes you, you’ll play. If he doesn’t, you’re wasting your time. And, to be honest, I think Suarez is making a bit of a mistake going to Barcelona – he’d be better suited to Real Madrid.
However, Scholes needn't worry. Suarez is more than capable of drifting into different positions to accommodate others. The truth is the mercurial forward works best when he is given positional freedom.
Suarez will have no trouble linking well with Messi and the rest of Barcelona's attacking talent. Suarez knows how to combine with quick and fluid movement around him.
He became a terrific source of supply for pacy Liverpool forwards Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling this season. The 27-year-old contributed 12 assists, per WhoScored.com. He also saw time on the flanks as well as behind the main striker for Brendan Rodgers' team.
Suarez won't have a problem combining with Messi, but at the moment, he'll be more concerned about the transfer status of another Barcelona forward.
Alexis Sanchez Could Scupper Barca's Suarez Pursuit
Barcelona's attempts to finally sign Suarez could well hinge on the transfer future of Alexis Sanchez. The Chile international is wanted by Liverpool as an ideal replacement for Suarez.
Unfortunately, Sanchez seems to favour a move to Premier League rivals Arsenal. Liverpool chief Rodgers could delay the sale of Suarez to try and force Barcelona into convincing Sanchez to choose Anfield over north London, per The Guardian:
Liverpool’s attempts to persuade the Barcelona forward Alexis Sánchez to move to Anfield mean Luis Suárez’s transfer to the Camp Nou will not be concluded until next week at the earliest.
Whether that amounts to a pure cash sale or cash-plus-Sánchez has yet to be decided. The Chile international reportedly favours a move to Arsenal but Barcelona would like him to move to Anfield in order to expedite their move for Suárez and lessen the financial impact of the transfer.
Sanchez makes sense as a replacement for Suarez. He possesses terrific pace and a clever range of movement. That makes the ex-Udinese man ideal for Rodgers' quick passing style.
However, Arsenal are pushing hard for their own deal with one of the stars of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Simon Johnson of the London Evening Standard has reported that the Gunners have even agreed terms with the player: "But Sanchez prefers a switch to the capital and Arsenal are believed to have already made him an offer worth £135,000-a-week."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger needs to add more speed and fluidity to what was a static attacking line for most of last season. Considering how well Sanchez meets those requirements, Wenger is unlikely to walk away from any potential deal easily.
Barcelona may not even want him to if they are prepared to pay straight cash for Suarez. Yet even though landing the superb striker would be a major coup, Enrique knows he has other needs to fill.
A protracted negotiation for Suarez must not sidetrack the new Barca gaffer from fixing a leaky defence.