Ronald Koeman seems to be asking for players he knows with Georginio Wijnaldum of Liverpool and Memphis Depay of Lyon. It might feel like Depay has been around forever, but the 26-year-old is still just coming into what should be considered his prime. Since his time at Manchester United, it appears that he has outgrown concerns of his attitude and consistency on the field.
He scored 15 goals in 22 matches this season playing primarily on the left wing. Aside from the consistency concerns from earlier in his career, injuries have also been an issue for the Dutch international. An ACL injury in December would have put him out for the rest of the season if not for the pandemic, and fortunately for him he was able to return for Lyon’s run to the Champions League semi-finals.
His decision-making has improved and the most attractive thing about the player now is his understanding of the system that he is playing in and his newfound willingness to sacrifice for the team. His assists were down this season, only two to speak of, but he was a bit more selfless in taking on defenders and delivering the ball before the final ball to teammates in opportunistic positions.
Like Pjanic and potentially Wijnaldum, the opposition to the Depay signing has less to do with the player than it does Messi’s words that keep ringing in my head. “And the truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time,” Messi said, “they juggle and cover holes as things go by.” It feels like these signings are covering holes and unlike other clubs where you feel like there is a method to the madness, this board has proven that there is no method.
Depay is best on the left wing, a position that both Ansu Fati, Pedri, and Ousmane Dembélé can play, plus Konrad de la Fuente from the B team for depth. Or if Messi in the middle, Antoine Griezmann would be on the left. Or Philippe Coutinho could give it another try under a new manager. Other positions should be priority with the limited money at the moment (FULL-BACK!!!! SIGN SERGINO DEST FROM AJAX INSTEAD OF WATCHING HIM GO TO BAYERN MUNICH!).
The other issue with bringing in Depay is blocking the progress of Fati, who should only get better in his sophomore campaign in the first team. This season he will deal with defenses that now have scouting reports on him, but he is still special. No one is anointing him the next Messi, but rather, taking into consideration the ways that he keeps breaking records.
Last season the 17-year-old scored eight first team goals (seven in La Liga and one in the Champions League), so a reasonable expectation would be between 10 and 12 total goals this season. Just taking a small step forward is good enough with Messi, Griezmann, Coutinho, and Dembélé also in the attack.
The fear to hype up Fati in the pessimistic belief that he will fail is fair, but reasonable expectations can go along with the understanding that he is extremely special.
Fati was already:
- Youngest to debut for the Spanish national team since 1936 (only behind Basque player Zubieta)
- Youngest player to ever score a brace in La Liga (against Levante in February)
- Youngest Barcelona goalscorer in Champions League history (against Inter Milan in December)
- Youngest Barcelona Champions League debut (against Borussia Dortmund in September 2019)
- Youngest goalscorer at the Camp Nou – This one might be the most impressive. For all the great players Barcelona has had since the Camp Nou opened over 60 years ago, Fati is youngest to score a goal.
- Youngest player to score and assist in La Liga action – Again, for all the players that ever played in La Liga, he’s the youngest ever to accomplish this feat.
- Youngest starter at the Camp Nou (against Valencia in September)
- Barcelona’s youngest goalscorer in La Liga (against Osasuna in August 2019)
- Youngest Barcelona debut since 1941 (only behind Vicenc Martínez)
Regardless of what the future holds for Fati, there is more than something there. Instead of worrying about his ceiling, Culers would be wise to start understanding what his floor would be, because even that is pretty high at this point. Depay would take minutes away from Fati, take him out of the starting line-up, and potentially stunt the growth of one of the most promising teenagers the world (not just Barcelona) has ever seen.
Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017.