Sandro Ramirez could prove to be the bargain of the summer. Considered one of the brightest prospects in the Spanish game, his £5 million move to Everton in the current market represents exceptional value.
So how did the Toffees manage to pull off such a shrewd move? The reason can be traced all the way back to Barcelona.
The striker was allowed to leave Camp Nou on a free transfer last summer, joining Malaga for the start of the 2016/17 season. At Malaga, he proved why Barca were wrong to let him go, scoring 14 goals in 28 Liga appearances.
For a side in the bottom half of the table, that was quite the tally.
Luis Enrique didn’t see Sandro as a Barcelona kind of player. Strong and physical, he certainly isn’t the archetypal La Masia product, but that’s precisely why their decision to let him leave was so ill-advised.
Sandro offered them something different.
A different dimension. That’s exactly what Enrique’s side lacked last season, as Paco Alcacer struggled to adapt to life at the club. They were made to pay for freeing Sandro.
Now, the Catalans find themselves at a similar juncture with another player. Rafinha, just like Sandro, isn’t an archetypal Barcelona player, depending on his physicality over his technicality.
The brother of Thiago Alcantara, he is of a very different mould to the Bayern Munich midfielder. He could follow the example of his sibling, though.
Thiago was another promising young player allowed to leave Camp Nou far too hastily. Now, he is considered one of the finest central midfielders in the European game. A Barcelona youth product he may be, but it’s Bayern Munich who are now reaping the reward of his promise. Another costly mistake from the Catalans.
They mustn’t repeat the error with Rafinha. Arsenal are reported to be interested in the 24-year-old, with the player himself thought to be keen on a move to the Premier League club. After all, he would stand a better chance of finding first team football at the Emirates Stadium. That will surely be a big factor in his decision.
Interest in Hector Bellerin must also be taken into account, with reports claiming Barca could use Rafinha as a makeweight in any deal for the full back. The void left by Dani Alves at right back is still to be filled at the Camp Nou, but at what cost are the Catalans willing to do that?
From Barca’s perspective, though, they must assure Rafinha of his place at the club. Barcelona often struggle for a plan B, but that’s largely down to their propensity for selling every player with the skill set to offer a plan B.
Rafinha offers Barca something different in the centre of the pitch, with his versatility also an extremely valuable trait.
Of course, it’s not yet known how Barcelona will look under new manager Ernesto Valverde. Enrique’s legacy was turning the Catalans into a more direct outfit, making the most of the sheer potency of his attacking frontline, harnessing the firepower of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
Valverde might put more of a focus on his midfield, as he did as Athletic Bilbao boss.
The pursuit of Marco Verratti suggests his Barcelona team will place more of an importance on physical attributes, with the Italian seen as the perfect man to add some presence in the centre of the pitch.
Rafinha might not be of the same caliber as Verratti, but he offers a similar option. What’s more, his creativity as a central midfielder is impressive, scoring seven goals in 26 appearances last season. That ratio makes him one of the most productive players at Barcelona, and no team can ever have enough productivity.
Transfer strategy has badly let down Barcelona in recent years, with the Catalans now playing catch up with rivals Real Madrid, who lifted a league and Champions League double last season. This summer hasn’t exactly seen a marked improvement in that regard either, with Gerard Deulofeu, Marlon and Nelson Semedo their only additions. Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho has also been linked.
It’s true that Barcelona’s squad is in need of reinforcement, but they mustn’t neglect what they already have. Neymar’s contract situation and rumoured move to Paris Saint-Germain has naturally grabbed the headlines of late, but there could also be concerning outgoings elsewhere.
This summer was billed as a summer of change for Barcelona, with Enrique stepping aside to make way for Valverde. But change is about more than just signing players. It’s also about eradicating an environment that too often sees players like Rafinha leave. Keeping hold of the midfielder would represent change.