, September 09, 2021

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Martin Braithwaite one of the last players Barcelona should look to sell this summer


  •   3 min reads
Braithwaite Barcelona stats
Martin Braithwaite is proving his worth in Messi's absence. Alejandro Garcia/EPA.

It took just 10 minutes for Lionel Messi’s name to ring around the Camp Nou as Barcelona played their first competitive match since the Argentine’s dramatic departure. At that point, Ronald Koeman’s side were tied at 0-0 against Real Sociedad. By full time, though, the Messi chants had been replaced with cheers as Barca started their La Liga campaign with a 4-2 win.

A number of players shone for the Catalans on opening weekend, but none more so than Martin Braithwaite, who notched two goals and an assist. The 30-year-old certainly won’t fill the void left behind by Messi — at least not on his own — but this showing proved what he can offer Barcelona this season.

Braithwaite is widely believed to be one of the players Barca have attempted to move on this summer. Of course, the club’s perilous financial position means there are few in the Camp Nou dressing room currently not up for sale, but there has been more speculation around the former Leganes forward than most.

It might ultimately come down to money. Barcelona president Joan Laporta spoke publicly this week about the true gravity of the club’s situation - Barca currently have a net worth of negative €451m. If a suitor offers to take Braithwaite off the wage bill, Koeman might have no choice but to let the forward leave.

But there are others Barcelona should attempt to offload before packing Braithwaite’s bags. The 30-year-old has been seen as a symbol of the Camp Nou club’s recent demise, such is the modest nature of his resume, but he gives Barca something different. Without him, Koeman’s team would be more predictable and easier to play against.

“I think he [Braithwaite] is an example of a professional, he always works for the team and has improved his game,” Koeman explained after Braithwaite’s impressive display in the 4-2 win over Real Sociedad. “He helps us a lot. He has speed and is difficult to stop. I am delighted to have players like him.”

Against Real Sociedad, Memphis Depay acted as Barcelona’s attacking hub. So much of their play flowed through the Dutchman who very much looked the part in blaugrana on his La Liga debut. Deployed predominantly on the right side, Antoine Griezmann was quick to get into the penalty box where his instincts as a centre forward are useful.

But it was Braithwaite who provided some verticality. Indeed, it was the Dane who gave Barcelona an outlet. He stretched the pitch and created space for others even when he didn’t receive the pass. There was a balance to Barca’s frontline and Braithwaite more than played his part in that, demonstrating a cutting edge that hasn’t always been associated with his play.

Of course, it’s likely that Braithwaite will lose his place in Koeman’s strongest XI once Ansu Fati returns from injury, with the youngster having missed the last 10 months or so. Ansu is widely seen as the natural heir to Messi as Barcelona’s next supreme attacking talent and so Koeman would be wise to introduce the teenager back into his team as soon as possible.

Barca, however, will need options over the course of the season such is the number of fixtures they will have to play to compete on three different fronts. There are some players in Koeman’s squad who are not pulling their weight — see Philippe Coutinho and Miralem Pjanic — but Braithwaite is not one of them.

The next few years could be rather lean for Barcelona as they recover from the damage done during the Josep Bartomeu era. Some difficult decisions will have to be made - the process is far from finished even after the shock exit of Messi. In the short to medium term, more good players will leave the Camp Nou than arrive.

This is another reason why holding on to Braithwaite would be a good idea. The Dane earns around €100,000-a-week; while this is still somewhat inflated, it’s significantly less than many of his Barcelona teammates. Indeed, Sergi Roberto, Pjanic, Samuel Umtiti and Coutinho all earn well more than Braithwaite despite contributing far less over the last two seasons.

As a bridge between the last generation and the next, Braithwaite could serve a real purpose for Barcelona. At 30, the Dane won’t develop much further, but there is already enough in his game to give opponents problems — his performance against Real Sociedad proved this. Koeman’s team is better for having the Dane around.

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