When Barcelona signed Thomas Vermaelen in August 2014, many wondered if then-sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta had lost the plot. Paying Arsenal €10m (which could raise to €19m) for a player who spent many of his five years in north London injured led several observers to praise the Gunners for great business. The centre-back may have enjoyed a barnstorming debut season at Arsenal, in which scored eight goals, yet his final two campaigns at the Emirates Stadium would be plagued by injury, despite lifting the FA Cup in 2014.
The warning signs were there for Barca, yet they did not heed those words. The Belgian missed most of last season with a thigh complaint and only came back to fitness during the closing weeks of the season, making just one appearance in La Liga.
This season is a vital one for Vermaelen as he needs to gain full fitness and perform well if he is to have a future at Camp Nou. Two games into the new season, however, and the stopper has shown why the club paid €10m up front for him. He showed against Athletic Bilbao and Malaga his attributes which have made him the player he is.
His anticipation was spot on and his tackling effective against Athletic as he stopped any attacks that entered Barca’s box. Versus Malaga, he was the hero, having scored the only goal of the game, when it seemed La Blaugrana would be frustrated by Carlos Kameni’s heroics. You could argue that he has been one of the club’s most effective players so far this season – a sentence many Barca fans thought they would never utter. With his injuries seemingly behind him, the former Ajax man is brimming with confidence.
“I want to play as many games as possible,” he recently told Barca’s official website. “I’m at a big club and it’s not easy to get a game, but I want to improve as a player and play as much as I can.”
In addition, while Vermaelen’s good start to the season comes at a good time for his club, it also comes at a perfect time for Belgium. His performances of late have been rewarded with a return to his country’s backline after a 14-month absence. Continue this good form and he’ll easily make the Benelux nation’s squad for Euro 2016, should they seal qualification in October.
With Gerard Pique’s suspension ruling him out of game against Atletico Madrid and Levante, it will give Vermaelen the chance to prove himself and maintain his rich vein of form. Facing Los Colchoneros at the Vicente Calderon is certainly a stern test for any defender.
If he can put in an assured performance then Coach Luis Enrique will find it difficult to leave him out. Alas, it seems that one of Zubi’s final signings as sporting director could turn out to be one of his best.