In the summer of 2016 Barcelona signed Samuel Umtiti, one of the most promising central defenders in the world at the time, from Lyon.
Less than two years have passed since the Frenchman arrived at the Camp Nou but he has evolved into one of the best central defenders in Europe. Now he wants to get paid accordingly.
Umtiti currently earns £75,000-a-week, on par with Nélson Semedo, who has made only 11 La Liga starts, and Gerard Deulofeu, who was loaned out to Watford in January.
He’s seeking to double his wages, putting him ahead of Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitić, and more on the club’s payroll.
After Sergi Roberto’s recent renewal, the 24-year-old is now the lowest paid starter for Barcelona, and with a measly release clause of £52.5million, it is a given other European giants will attempt to lure him away with heightened wages.
Manchester United boss José Mourinho has personally called Umtiti and offered offered to meet his wage demands in an attempt to persuade him to go to Old Trafford.
For Barcelona, who are looking to tighten their purse strings ahead of a potential move for Antoine Griezmann this summer, the defender's demands are an obstacle. However, for United, who in the midst of Victor Lindelöf’s poor form and Eric Bailly’s struggles to stay fit, £150,000-a-week isn’t a stumbling block.
As proven by their capture of Alexis Sánchez, who now earns the highest wage in the Premier League, the Red Devils have demonstrated that they will pay over the odds in order to secure their man.
Umtiti certainly wouldn’t be the first player to use interest from Manchester United to negotiate an improved contract at his current club, but there’s no indication that the two parties are close to reaching a deal.
If the Cameroon-born France international's wage demands are matched, he would become the sixth-highest paid central defender in Europe, behind Gerard Piqué, Virgil van Dijk, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, and Sergio Ramos.
The question is whether Barcelona should capitulate to his demands or pursue other options that wouldn’t put such a strain on the wage bill?
We have taken a look at two defenders they could turn to.
Of all the potential options to replace Umtiti, none fit the bill better than Lenglet.
The 22-year-old has cemented himself as a vital cog in the Sevilla side season and was impressive in knocking Manchester United out the Champions League.
Barcelona have followed Lenglet since he was 16. But the player remained at Nancy until January of last year when Monchi produced the final masterstroke of his time at Sevilla and snapped him up for just €5million.
The young Frenchman took to La Liga like a duck to water, playing 19 matches for the Andalusian side in the second half of the season, including key wins against Real Madrid and Leicester City.
This term has been a rocky, transitional year for Sevilla, but it’s been a coming-of-age campaign for Lenglet.
No player in Spain has logged more minutes across all competitions than the defender, who has missed just four matches since arriving from France.
Against United, Lenglet proved why he is regarded as one of the most promising centre-backs in Europe. Despite standing two inches shorter and weighing 28 pounds fewer than Romelu Lukaku, the Frenchman got the better of the £75million striker in both legs.
Constantly snuffing out danger while also bringing the ball out from the back, he exemplified everything a modern defender should strive to be.
With Lenglet’s name now in the spotlight, Sevilla are looking to raise both his £26.3million release clause and his salary, but should Barcelona come knocking, there’s no guarantee he’d pick a contract renewal over joining the Blaugrana side.
Furthermore, Barça’s transfer history with Los Nervionenses makes Lenglet a likely option in the case that Umtiti leaves. Since 2008, no team has sold the Catalan club more players than Sevilla.
Matthijs de Ligt
Whether Umtiti stays or goes, there is no doubt Barcelona fans will continue to clamour for the signing of Matthijs De Ligt.
Originally seen as a transfer priority in January, the deal has been put on hold until 2019. Nonetheless, the Catalan side view the Ajax defender as a long-term replacement for Piqué, and his progress over the past 12 months has made him one of the most exciting teenagers in world football.
On March 25, 2017, de Ligt began his international career with a horror show as Bulgaria defeated Netherlands 2-0 in World Cup Qualifying.
Exactly one year and one day later, he pocketed the reigning Ballon D’Or winner, Ronaldo, and managed two assists against Portugal, the Euro 2016 winners.
De Ligt had only started two league matches when he made his disastrous international debut. But, with time and patience, he gained the trust of the-then Ajax coach Peter Bosz and cemented his first-team spot.
In his first professional season, he started in Europa League knockout matches, even stifling Alexandre Lacazette in the semi-final first leg. At 17, de Ligt became the youngest player to ever appear in a Champions League or Europa League final and, this time, he passed the test with flying colours.
The teenager was calm in possession, dominant in his duels against Marcus Rashford and, of the various Ajax prospects who started, was the only one who wasn’t out of his depth.
A bevy of transfer rumours regarding the 17-year-old popped up over next few months. Yet it was Barcelona who were most interested.
Ajax wanted over £50million for de Ligt in January, a figure that put off the Blaugrana. Instead, the La Liga leaders signed Yerry Mina for £10.5million.
They remain keen on the young Dutchman, though, and he said in November: “Barcelona [is my favourite Spanish club] for its connection with Ajax and beautiful football.”
But he also made it clear he is happy in Holland: “I prefer to be a starter in Ajax than on the bench in Barcelona.”
All signs point to the potential transfer being a matter of when, not if. And Barça must do everything they can to make sure de Ligt becomes Umtiti’s long-term partner, not long-term replacement.
Barcelona must give in to Umtiti
There is nothing to suggest Lenglet or de Ligt will match or surpass Umtiti's talents. As exciting as the duo are, they don’t boast the imposing strength and speed Umtiti does.
He has also enjoyed a seamlessly smooth transition into a top-level club football, and, at 24, is already one of the best central defenders in the world.
To allow him to leave for just £52.5million, before he even enters his prime, would be incompetence of the highest degree.
It is of the utmost importance Barcelona give him the money he not only wants, but deserves, and that they insert a protectively high buyout clause in his contract to assure that this match made in heaven stays.