For Giuseppe Rossi, it started as a dream, appeared to become a reality, then ended up as a nightmare. And for some Barcelona fans the outcome was not as they had hoped, either. They had been excited about the prospect of Rossi arriving at Camp Nou. For a while, it seemed just a matter of time. Instead, his agent admitted there was little chance of the Italian-American moving on after Villarreal rejected an initial bid and Barca turned their attention elsewhere.
So, instead of Rossi, they turned their attention to Alexis Sanchez of Udinese, who, has become the first Chilean to join the club.
Bit by bit the initial sense of being underwhelmed is being overcome. Barca fans knew Rossi could perform; in fact, they had suffered as he scored goals for Villarreal and he appeared to be the perfect match for Barcelona: technically gifted, swift, able to play beyond the defensive line and also drop deeper to be involved in the build-up, happy to push wide and create space. A deadly finisher but a team player too.
They had seen little of Sanchez and were not sure that he was that good. But soon the profiles rolled in. Here, they were told, was a special talent, the outstanding player in Italy over the last season who was quick, skilful and almost unstoppable one on one. Creative and able to score goals, he hit 12 in 27 games last season. Comparisons had even been drawn with Cristiano Ronaldo. Further hope came with the news that Barcelona looked likely to beat Manchester City to his signature.
For Villarreal, resistance was easier because Rossi – whose gratitude to the “Yellow Submarine” remains strong following their treatment of him, especially in the aftermath of his father’s death – refused to rebel. Sanchez, in contrast, pushed hard. His refusal to countenance a move to anywhere other than Barca helped force Udinese’s hand and he was given special dispensation to leave Chile’s squad at the Copa America.
Giampollo Pozzo, the Udinese owner, talked of a fee in the region of £44m, but his son Gino set about building a deal satisfactory to all sides. Ultimately, it could be worth around £36m. Pozzo junior said: “We are trying to fulfil the player’s desire; it is understandable that he should want to go to Barcelona.”
In the end, they agreed a £25m basic fee plus a further £4.5m in objectives and a player exchange – with Barcelona offering Jeffren and Jonathan Soriano among others. For the Pozzos there was the advantage of being able to use them either for Udinese or their other concern, recently promoted Spanish club Granada.
Now the question being asked at Barcelona is where, exactly, does Sanchez fit in and who misses out?
Despite a significant dip midway through the season, David Villa ultimately enjoyed a successful first campaign – ending with a wonderful goal in the Champions League Final. The coaching staff believed his role is very different to the one he had at Valencia, and his first season was bound to be hard, but that he had learnt the Barcelona way. As for Pedro, he had definitively proved his worth.
Sanchez’s style is different – more individualistic, more direct. His explosion at Udinese had coincided with a move to a free role behind the strikers rather than wide on the right, cutting in, as he had done before and that means Leo Messi’s position…
But judging Barcelona by focusing only on their starting XI is short-sighted. Pep Guardiola knows he needs to build a bigger squad in a season in which Barca will be fighting on six fronts. It will begin with the Super Cup against Real Madrid, less than three weeks after Messi finishes the Copa America, and end with the European Championship – at which Barcelona are likely to supply at least seven players to the Spain team.
Guardiola is conscious of the need to evolve and offer something different while maintaining the basic approach; it means having alternatives. It also means not just buying every player available. Rossi appeared to be the result of that search, but Sanchez is the solution.
By Sid Lowe