Perhaps the most telling aspect of Tito Vilanova’s first Press conference as Barcelona Coach last week was the admission that the club will prioritise the signing of a left-back this summer.
This will come as no surprise given the growing speculation linking Jordi Alba with a move to the club alongside the inability of any player to become established at left-back since Eric Abidal was diagnosed with a liver tumour in March 2011.
Vilanova will be seeking a player in the mould of his French stalwart, whose absence this campaign unbalanced a backline that conceded eight more League goals than in 2010-11.
More importantly the goals which unravelled Barcelona’s season – the two at home to Chelsea and Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner in El Clasico – all arose through the channel between left-back and centre-half. A natural defender, Abidal provided height, presence and anchored the shape of the team when Dani Alves foraged forward. His most regular replacement, Adriano, remains a useful and versatile member of the squad, but does not appear to be the long-term answer. Little wonder too that Pep Guardiola experimented to mixed success with a full-back-less 3-4-3 formation last term.
With Abidal’s future uncertain, attention turns to Valencia’s Alba who is currently forging an ever-improving reputation at international level with Spain this summer. The 23-year-old’s pace, penetrating runs and slick technique – honed at La Masia before they released him in 2005 – make him a seamless fit for Barcelona. He has already struck up a rapport with David Villa and Andres Iniesta for La Roja and received a ringing endorsement from Xavi Hernandez: “Alba is a spectacular player, a 10 as a person. He grew up at the club, he's competitive, aggressive, good in defence. He's ready."
Should the Alba deal fail to materialise, another candidate to fill Abidal’s boots is Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale. The departure of Harry Redknapp and the failure of Spurs to secure Champions League may see Bale consider his future at White Hart Lane. Unlike Alba, however, the swashbuckling winger’s strengths lie further forward and he would be considerably more expensive than the reported €15m fee sought by Valencia President Manuel Llorente for Alba.
While Llorente has indicated a preference to conclude the transfer before the end of this financial year on June 30, any deal is likely to take place after Euro 2012. On the growing speculation linking the Valencia defender with a move to the Blaugrana, Alba insisted his immediate focus remains in Poland and Ukraine: “I've told my agents I don't want to hear anything that's not related to the Spanish national team.”
How far Vicente Del Bosque’s side go in the Euros is likely to determine how long Vilanova will have to wait to secure his first summer signing.