Barcelona is a club that cherishes a unique footballing philosophy over everything else. This is an arrogant outlook, but what saves this club from being branded as shrewd is the way they choose to do it. Quick two-touch football and a prodigal youth academy system are things of immense pride. However, as perfect as it appears with the trophies pouring in, this system alienates even the best of footballers. Just ask Cesc Fabregas, and Alexis Sanchez.
In the post Pep Guardiola era, Barcelona now have the best combination of attacking players: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. The three combined to score 131 goals last season, amounting 75% of the team’s total goal tally. This excellent partnership has forced Pedro, Gerard Deulofeu, Ibrahim Affelay, Christian Tello, and Alexis Sanchez out of the club since Suarez (the last of the three to join) arrived in July 2014. What makes this trio work is the each individual player’s ability to play across the front three positions, and most importantly – unselfishness.
With the amount of players not being able to work as suitable replacements, you’d think Barcelona would opt to purchase an additional player, in case of an injury to either of the three so-called MSN players. This year, coach Luis Enrique opted against purchasing a new player as a backup to MSN, but instead is now using Arda Turan, the former Atleti midfielder – who was bought for €35 million in July 2015 – as his go-to guy in the absence of his first choice players.
Turan arrived in Barcelona with a reputation of being a firebrand midfield player. On multiple occasions, under Diego Simeone, Turan was the coach’s de facto voice and body on the pitch, shouting orders and rounding up the troops. His arrival during a transfer ban meant he was confined to the stands for six months, before actually being eligible to play. He played only 18 times last season, and was deployed at the centre of the pitch. This came as a surprise, both for fans, and Turan himself. The former Turkish captain – he has been dropped by the national team for their next two friendlies – was usually asked to work on either side of a main striker, and turned out equally on both flanks at Atleti.
Back on the flank
This season, Barcelona and Luis Enrique have made the decision to use Turan in a position that fits him best, back on the flank. This decision could have partly been taken because of Neymar’s Olympic commitment and the lack of an experienced forward player, or partly because Enrique has figured out how to get the best of Turan. The Turk has never been at the top of the charts. A combined 32 goals and 22 assists in 127 games for Atleti is just the easily recorded facet of his contribution. Turan’s greatest strength lies in composing attacking plays. He is often one or two passes away from an assist, and on occasion finds himself in easy goal-scoring opportunities.
In the first two games of the season, Turan has already shown signs of becoming a serious first-team contender in this Barcelona squad. He scored Barcelona’s first two goals against Sevilla – his second goal being a spectacularly struck shot beating Sergio Rico from outside the penalty area. Turan adapts well to his own players and understands what is needed of him, as exemplified by his pre-assist for Messi against Sevilla. Turan will never make the spotlight for an overhead kick, nor will you see him leading the end of season charts for goals and assists, but he is the kind of player who a coach would name first on his team sheet.