FC Barcelona has spent an absolute fortune on two very promising players who look to anchor the club in the foreseeable future. Whether they can replicate the astronomically world-class play of the living legends they’re trying to replace, remains to be seen. I believe they can come close but probably won’t eclipse their once in a lifetime talent elders.
A 20-year-old lightning quick French forward who has enjoyed a meteoric rise, Ousmane Dembele’s potential is through the roof. The 100 million euro August signing from Bundesliga side, Borussia Dortmund was brought in to replace the pace and skill lost by the departure of Neymar this past summer. However, his brief Barcelona career has been hampered by injury, he has missed the majority of the five months he’s spent at the club and recently was injured again in a 4-2 win at Sociedad. This is a concern going forward due to the nature of the injuries and the player. Dembele suffered a hamstring tear and strain respectively which can be problematic for a footballer who relies on his electrifying pace and change of direction. If he can sort out his health he will be a force in La Liga or wherever else for years to come. His pace and skill on the ball will cause tons of problems for any opposing defense. Apart from that he has a knack for seeing and completing the key pass, highlighted by his 20 assists with Dortmund last season according to Who Scored.com. This will serve him well in an ultra-technical league like Spain’s
Vasco Da Gama product, Phillipe Coutinho has been on world football’s radar since his teenage years. Lofty expectations often crush players but he’s handled it pretty well. He’s had his struggles at times especially at Inter Milan and on loan at Espanyol but when he arrived at Liverpool he blossomed into a superstar, in arguably the toughest league in the world. The prototypical midfield maestro, Coutinho is an expert at carving teams apart with incisive passes and perfectly weighted through balls. This is the aspect of his game that probably attracted Barca’s attention and eventual 160 million euro payout. He made his debut in the team’s second leg quarterfinal Copa del Rey matchup against Celta Vigo. He had a good outing off the bench and didn’t try to force things which is good for team chemistry going forward. Coutinho brings an added dimension and much-needed depth to a squad that lacks it at times. His debut in the starting 11 at home against Eibar was satisfactory as well and he looks like a player that will make major contributions in the league and eventually in Europe.
Who are they trying to replace?
Most would agree that Coutinho is the direct heir to an aging Andres Iniesta who turns 34 in May, but the Brazilian is such a skilled player that he can play in several positions. Despite Coutinho’s world-class status, replacing one of the greatest midfielders of all time is no small task and no matter how well you play you may never come close to doing so on or off the pitch. Iniesta is a World Cup winner who scored the winning goal in the final, a two-time European champion with Spain, a four time Champions League winner, the list goes on and on so expectations need to be tempered for Coutinho. With all that said, stylistically they are clones of each other, technically gifted crafty players who can pass with their eyes closed and Coutinho actually appears to be the better goalscorer. One advantage Coutinho has is that in his stint with Liverpool he was asked to shoulder the load on numerous occasions, as great as Iniesta is he has had all time legends by his side for his entire career whether it’s Messi, Ronaldinho, Xavi, Deco, Henry, etc. Phillipe has never played with players of that caliber until now. He’s definitely intelligent enough to handle the mental strain of playing for Barcelona and he’s proven he can deal with the physical strain during his time in England. Excellent player.
Dembele is an excellent prospect who oozes talent but not much more can be said because the sample size is so small and how young the player is. Similarly, Neymar came to the club at a young age, 21 to be exact but the PSG player has proven to be a top 3 player in the world, the jury is still out on the young Dembele. As far as a replacement, Dembele and Neymar are almost like for like, extravagantly skilled and pacey players who love to take defenders on whenever they can. The Frenchman is a bit raw and has a lot to learn but he has a good skill-set foundation to build on. Some have even predicted that he can replicate Messi’s role in the future but that is a stretch at this juncture. Give the kid time to grow and maybe he will become what the world expects him to be. A Ballon d’or candidate.
Their roles going forward
Coutinho is one of those hybrid players that can either serve as an attacking central mid or be deployed on either wing. With Brazil, he even plays on the right flank due to Neymar’s predominance of the left. I see him as the next co-conductor of the team behind Messi of course and if and when Messi leaves he has a chance to be the next great Barcelona talisman.
Dembele is the team’s designated sprinter although he brings much more to the table, that is essentially what his role is. With Gerard Deulofeu sent out on loan, Dembele’s role should increase even more because he is clearly the fastest player in the squad which is important. He will be assigned with making darting runs into the box and providing another gear when the team is on the counter. His importance will gradually expand as his level of play and attributes do as well.
The future is bright for Barcelona
FC Barcelona has been at the forefront of the sport for at least a decade, when they win trophies it’s expected, when they lose it’s a disaster but one thing is for sure the team will always at least compete for titles whether in Spain or abroad. The departure of Messi will be no doubt be a once in a lifetime event for the club, they’ll have to completely reboot the squad. These two players they have signed will be a major determinant of how the club handles Messi’s inevitable departure due to the fact he turns 31 this year.