Football is forever changing and evolving: if you are not adapting, you are standing still. After finishing second in La Liga and knocked out by Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona need to show some evolution this summer.
Ernesto Valverde has been confirmed as the new head coach, taking over from Luis Enrique, and reports in France and Spain suggest that Nice midfielder Jean Michaël Seri could be heading to the Camp Nou.
The 25-year-old was one of the revelations of last season in Ligue 1 and one of the reasons Les Aiglons earned a place in the qualifying round of the Champions League.
Only Monaco’s Thomas Lemar finished with more assists in the league, and Seri’s nine leaves him level with Montpellier’s Ryad Boudebouz and new Manchester City signing Bernardo Silva.
Previously linked with moves to Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, it seems now his agent is entering talks with Barcelona.
Paris Saint-Germain were thought to be interested in Seri, but if it comes down to a decision from the player, he's revealed in the past what club he dreams of playing for.
“If Barça comes to sign you, you can’t say no. No way,” he told Mundo Deportivo.
“I have supported Barça since I was a child, when I was still in my native country, in Ivory Coast. I was always a big Cule (Barcelona fan) and those who know me know it well. Then, when I moved to Portugal, I had the chance to follow their games closely.”
Amazingly, if a move to the Nou Camp comes off, the central midfielder will have gone from playing for mid-table Paços de Ferreira in the Portuguese league to one of the most recognisable club names in world sport.
However, anyone who watches Seri play will not be surprised at his rise. Due to his work-rate, determination and all-round quality, he has quickly become one of the best players in France.
Adding something different to Barcelona
Barcelona’s midfield three has followed a similar path for several years now. You have Sergio Busquets in the holding midfield role. He’s the tough tackler, protector of the defence, providing simple but effective control of the ball.
Then comes the creative force behind the attack. Last season it was Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Ratikić, with André Gomes disappointing in large parts and Denis Suárez in the back-up role.
Seri offers something a little different from all four and even adds a little bit of Busquets at the same time.
He was deemed to be a tough-tackling midfielder when he arrived at Nice, so when Nampalys Mendy left for Leicester City last summer, Seri was expected to step into his boots.
The Ivorian took his place as a leader, but offered so much more to the Côte d’Azur side. Seri sets the mood of the midfield, it may not show in terms of tackles and interceptions, but he charges around, pressurises the ball, closes opponents down and leads by example.
Comparing to Champions Challengers
When you look at Seri compared to not only his competition at Barcelona, but other targets and his opposition, he doesn’t fade into the background.
Only Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta completed more passes per 90 minutes this season in Ligue 1, but Seri still manages to dwarf the numbers of Ratikić and Luka Modrić at Real Madrid.
That will help him fit in perfectly into Barça’s tiki-taka style. He’s not afraid of the ball, he is always looking to get free and with 85.4 per cent of his passes finding their mark, he knows how to use it.
Seri uses good positioning and awareness of his surroundings to move away from danger with deft touches and a quick first step helping him create space from his markers.
Although he is very small, just 168cm tall, he is stock, powerful and fast, which sees him charge into the final third, and seven goals this term shows, while he may only average one shot per 90, he knows where the goal is.
Playing at home against Toulouse, you can see Seri’s starting position is deep in the Nice midfield.
Yet, when the play starts to develop, the 25-year-old sees the gap appear and is quick to act.
Younes Belhanda finds the pass, Seri is in the box to add the finish from the knock-down and Nice grab the third goal, killing off the game.
Within a flash, the Ivorian went from a defensive protector to goal-scorer, and it has been a key feature of his performances.
When he does find himself through on goal, he’s demonstrated a calmness in front of goal, able to finish with his right, or his weaker left-foot.
Passing skills to open up defences
One of his most underrated features is his vision and long passing ability. Quite a few his assists have come from delightful balls over the top of unsuspecting defences.
What he does very well is release the ball quickly: sometimes when you don’t even think there is a pass on, he picks out a team-mate.
When you think about the runs that Neymar, Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi make, compared to Mario Balotelli, Valentin Eysseric and Alassane Pléa, you are handing a talent passer even more options to find in the final third.
One key moment in Nice’s campaign came away against Rennes. After going 2-0 down, Lucien Favre’s side fought back and eventually won an important point.
Eysseric starts the move with Seri finding a couple of yards of space. The French midfielder feeds the ball forward and then continues his run, quickly the ball comes back to Seri and without taking a touch, or even thinking about it, his delightful right-foot pass is on the button.
Eysseric races through on goal to level the score.
It was reported that Ander Herrera was Valverde’s first-choice midfielder this summer, but Seri has everything that Manchester United fans have come to love from their little star.
Short passes, diagonal balls out wide and searching passes through the middle, Seri has it all in his locker.
Add that to his energy, work-rate, drive, determination and all-round will to win, you have a midfielder not only built for the Barcelona style, but someone who can also add something a little different.
That is part of evolution and an aspect of Seri’s game that Valverde will love.