After the signing of Oriol Romeu, the club’s rapid transition towards league football, and the departure of a familiar face in the sporting sector an unfamiliar feeling washed over Barca, its fanbase, and the footballing world that desperately watches their every move like hawks looking for prey.
That feeling, was somehow “peace”.
Considering how much the media circus revolves around Barca, you’d probably laugh if you heard me tell you peaceful days looked likely to remain with the club for the remainder of the transfer window.
But in reality, the possibility wasn’t all that unlikely.
Barring some sort of catastrophic injury, Barca looked set to ride into the new season with their current squad. The midfield depth had been addressed with İlkay Gündoğan’s arrival. Sergio Busquets replacement has been brought in, by the way of Oriol Romeu. Plus, Barca have injected more youth into their attack with the return of Ez Abde.
Barca even secured another potential future starlet. That being Vitor Roque, who isn’t scheduled to arrive as an official Barcelona player until 2024.
There are still some notable holes within the squad: The right back spot — which looks very likely to be addressed in this window courtesy of João Cancelo. But these weren’t significant holes, at least on paper — aside from right back — because of the many ways Xavi Hernández can utilize his squad this season.
However, as soon as the outside world was ready to put Barca’s hectic transfer window to bed prematurely, a bomb emerged. A certain Portuguese standout sent shockwaves throughout the entire footballing world. I’m sure you know who did it by doing you know what. But in case you haven’t heard, it’s a rather shocking development.
João Felix — while still under contract at Atletico Madrid — publicly proclaimed his desire to join Barca.
Fabrizio Romano delivered the news, taking words from João Felix himself and sent them out into the public for consumption. The first reactions were eerily similar to shock. But after some time, many began to talk themselves into the idea of somehow adding Felix into this current Barca squad.
It’s understandable why they did that. Since adding a superstar like Felix is basically confirming your wish to win the Champions League. But if you still had a bit of a head and thought for a bit, you’d come to this conclusion.
Felix’s interest in joining Barca is flattering, But at this current moment, Barca doesn’t need João Felix in any shape or form. This statement can be echoed from the rooftops too, especially now that the move is 100% completed.
You might call that crazy and even a bit mad, but it’s a very true and necessary statement to make.
Let me explain why.
The Financial Blockade
I’m sure everyone knows of Barca’s turbulent financial fair play situation.
The current situation hasn’t allowed the club to chase after big monetary signings. Not only that, it has caused some players — i.e Messi being the big one — to avoid the club all together because of questions surrounding registration.
With these financial limitations in place, why would Barca of all clubs decide to chase after an expensive João Felix? The same Felix who Atletico de Madrid is shopping around like a cheap piece of jewelry at a shady pawn shop?
That’s right, it makes absolutely zero sense.
Well, unless you count Joan Laporta’s worrying relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes, then it makes sense for all the wrong reasons.
Add in the fact that according to reports, a simple loan deal with an option to buy will cost an extra money that Barca needs to use to address more spots that qualify as needs, and the deal makes even less sense from a financial point of view.
Granted, Barca now have extra money to spend due to the sudden sale of Ousmane Dembélé, so they do have the financial feasibility to make this move work. But even then, it’s best to use that money to invest in more needy positions within the squad, like a position that’s desperately needed within the squad right now due to clashing profiles being used at that spot (right back, obviously).
However, even with the financial aspect not making much sense, Barca still has another problem with this deal that might be more significant than the actual monetary portion. And that problem, is one Barca has brung upon themselves in the past.
Felix’s best role doesn’t exist at Barca
A lot has been made of João Felix and the talent he possesses. But in order for that talent to consistently shine, he needs to be played in the role that he excels at on the pitch.
The infamous “10” role
Felix’s best role is more so of a 10, someone who slots in ahead of the traditional midfield spot, and behind a traditional striker.
It’s a role that brings its advantages, like being able to connect the midfield and the attack in a more comfortable way.
Let’s say for example, if Barca rolled out their “traditional” 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder — or a 6 — and 2 holding midfielders — or 8’s — the role of a 10 wouldn’t necessarily exist since the traditional modern principles for this formation, is for the two connecting 8’s to push forward and link up with the attack themselves (advancing play through the middle, connecting with centre forwards for central attacking play, or connecting with wingers for flank play, whether that be crosses or other forms of attacking play).
Xavi has ran out a 3-4-3 in possession a good bit over the last year or so, which has some flexibility to slot in a traditional “10”. But in this instance, Xavi’s 3-4-3 has maintained the importance of advanced 8’s, with a false winger occupying the left side and aiding in possession on that side when needed (Gavi with Alejandro Balde as an example).
There’s been no indication that Xavi wants to even change this shape in possession anyways, so a role of a 10 is ruled out.
João Felix can also slot in as a left winger. But he’s not a touchline winger, since his skill-set is best matched with a inverted role where he can link up with more options in the forward line.
Even if you wanted to ignore that and place Felix on the left in Xavi’s system, you’d be sacrificing his best attributes as a creator and an initiator. Furthermore, he isn’t a player that has a work rate off the ball. Which is something Xavi wants out of his forward line whenever they’re out of possession (Xavi’s pressing system).
Felix’s work rate has already been questioned by his two previous gaffers — Diego Simeone and Frank Lampard — which also doesn’t really bode well for his hypothetical fit in Xavi’s system.
The Portuguese star can also play as a centre forward. But as I’m about to explain, that role wouldn’t doesn’t seem feasible either. Not because he can’t play there, but because he’d be scuffling for game time there.
Where would Felix even fit in?
João Felix can play a variety of positions as explained previously.
However, wherever role he slots in has its own set of questions squad wise. You can play him as a 10. But would you want to sacrifice another midfielder like a Frenkie De Jong or a Gavi, just to squeeze a player into a role that might not suit the regular set up?
Potential set ups with João Felix as a 10?
Let’s say you do put a 10 role into this set up. You could go with a diamond midfield set up with Felix as a 10, Pedri as one of the traditional 8’s, and one of either Gavi, Gundogan, or De Jong as the other 8, with Romeu sliding in as a 6.
Or you could replace Romeu with Gundogan (who has some versatility there, but you’d be minimizing his talents there), utilize De Jong as the second “receiver” like last season but in a more controlled and deeper role, deploy Felix as the main connector from midfield to attack as a 10, and slide Pedri in as a false winger.
These are all tactical possibilities in a 3-4-3 by the way.
If you do that those things, you’d be running into multiple problems:
- Taking away some of the creative central freedom from Pedri
- Removing De Jong’s freedom to carry through the midfield, which helps stabilize a set up in the final third
- Removing Gavi from your starting 11 and losing your best pressing player
These are just three issues that come up with those set ups. To make matters worse, there’s even more issues that I simply didn’t mention as well.
All for the sake of time.
If the 10 role not being feasible is enough of a problem, take the left wing into account as well.
Left wing overload
If you want to put Felix on the left, go ahead, nobody is stopping you. You’d simply be taking away a lot of the charm and tactical intelligence in Felix’s game. While also creating a logjam at left wing.
Barca already has enough problems at the left wing spot. Uncertainty is one of them, along with inconsistency. But the main problem there is balance, mostly in the way of game time.
Ansu Fati remains on the left wing and needs game time, but now with Felix’s arrival, it appears the club will seriously consider entertaining the thought of moving Fati on. Since a number of clubs have been prowling around the situation, a return fee for the once decorated La Masia prospect won’t be a question, but a given. Right now Tottenham looks like his likely destination.
UPDATE: Fabrizio Romano reports Fati will be heading to Brighton on a straight loan deal
The big one though is relating to Ez Abde.
Abde is back after a successful loan spell at Osasuna. But he isn’t here to sit on the bench, as he recognizes his future should involve a lot of game time, not gazing sessions while rotting in a bench area.
Would you want to take away Felix’s genius as a central creator and initiator? While having to juggle game time for two young talents — game time they both really need and game time they already will have to fight for — at the same spot?
You shouldn’t want to.
Felix is a good player, but sticking him there and taking away precious and important game time from two young talents is nothing but an example of malpractice.
So, a 10 role and left wing role is out of the picture. That leaves centre forward open. But let’s be real here. Is Felix seriously dropping Robert Lewandowski from the starting 11? No he isn’t. Will Felix seriously be happy with a bench role behind Lewandowski? Absolutely not.
Plus, add in the fact that Barca has had plenty of issues with this sort of signing in the past (big name, but not a defined role tactically that’ll ensure comfort, leading to success; think Antoine Griezmann and Phillipe Coutinho) and this signing still makes absolutely zero sense for Barca.
With that, the centre forward role is closed as well.
It’s okay to want Felix. But it’s also okay to admit his best role doesn’t exist in Barca’s set up. Nor would it make sense to create it and sacrifice the well being of other players around him.
You have to be realistic in these sort of situations.
Do you really want to uproot the squad for a player that doesn’t fit? Barca have encountered with sort of situation in the past, with Antoine Griezmann and Phillipe Coutinho suffering as a result.
You all remember. Griezmann couldn’t fully give his all because his own role was occupied by Lionel Messi. Not necessarily position wise, but philosophy wise, as Griezmann’s free roaming central role was taken by Messi. In the end Griezmann was forced to play as a centre forward, a position he can play but certainly not the best one for him.
The same happened with Coutinho, whose best role as a central threat in the attack was occupied by a free roaming Messi. As a result, Coutinho was forced to play as an out and out winger, again, a role that he could play but certainly wasn’t a position he’s best at.
Does anyone really want to do a remake of the same situation?
Barca is well off saying thank you to Felix for his interest, while kindly turning him down and wishing him well for the future.
Maybe down the line Felix’s arrival would make more sense. But right now? It makes zero sense, financially and tactically.