Barcelona’s big summer of recruitment has had mixed results so far. The likes of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen have slotted in without issues, greatly improving the defence at Camp Nou. Robert Lewandowski has been everything they could have hoped for. The likes of Franck Kessie, Marcos Alonso and Hector Bellerin have carried out their rotational roles with varying degrees of success so far. Yet if there are two signings that have received more criticism than any others, then it would Raphinha and Ferran Torres, albeit he arrived six months earlier.
The Brazilian came in for a fee of €58m, after a drawn out transfer saga with Leeds United. Raphinha turned down Chelsea in order to head to Camp Nou, where he was supposed to replace the out of contract Ousmane Dembele.
Only Dembele stayed. Having already committed to the Raphinha deal, Barcelona saw through their promise to Raphinha, ending up with two players best suited to the same position. The Frenchman has been Xavi Hernandez’s personal bet ever since he arrived at Camp Nou, and so it has proved again.
Initially Raphinha began on the left side, interchanging with Dembele from time to time, but as it became clear which was producing the best results, increasingly Raphinha found himself on the bench. Over the course of the campaign, Raphinha has started just 12 of their 25 games, despite being their most expensive signing of the summer.
Ferran Torres, signed for €55m just over a year ago now, is having even less success. He might argue his best position is on the right too, but finds himself even further down the pecking order. Torres has just 7 starts all season, illustrating his fall from guaranteed starter last summer to back-up option.
Constantly praised for his work off the ball, there is only so far intelligent runs and hard work will go at Barcelona. Particularly when the cost to bring him Camp Nou was so high.
Following the news that Arsenal have contacted Barcelona in order to find out that the availability of both players, it leaves the Blaugrana with quite the predicament on their hands.
Neither is a starter, nor living up to their billing at these admittedly early stages. Normally, this issue could be given more time to work itself out. Yet with major holes remaining elsewhere in the squad ahead of the summer transfer window, it makes little sense to have over €110m of talent on the bench, if that is the way it continues.
While Raphinha has shown more promise (8 goal contributions to 6, including a vital winner against Osasuna), perhaps it makes more sense for Barcelona to make him available to Arsenal at the right price.
Provided they are confident Dembele can remain fit, and that they will lock him down to a new contract, then Raphinha’s best position is, theoretically, indefinitely occupied. Perhaps he can outperform Dembele over the long-term, but while Xavi is manager, it seems highly unlikely that he will have the chance to do so.
Working in Torres’ favour is his versatility. Although he is not showing himself to be entirely effective at this point, Ferran is capable of playing across the front three, a valuable trait. Additionally, Torres is four years younger than Raphinha. He should not only retain value better, but has more scope for improvement.
It would leave a bitter taste in the mouth if Raphinha were to leave, either this January or in the summer, especially given the effort he made to arrive. However strategically, if Xavi and the Blaugrana are wedded to Dembele on the right for better or worse, then Raphinha’s departure makes more sense if they are to accept an advance for one of him and Torres.