“Wait, they’ve signed Boateng? The Bayern Munich defender Messi left scrambling on the ground?”
“No the other one, Kevin-Prince Boateng.”
“That guy who was at Las Palmas? Are you joking?”
This conversation overheard in a Barcelona newsroom on Monday is one that likely played out in a number of different variations across the city, if not the world, as the news of the most surprising transfer of the season broke.
Yes, it was true; Barça’s masterstroke signing to provide back-up for Luis Suarez at centre-forward in the crunch stage of a season chasing the treble is a 31-year-old who isn’t even really a striker, and had been playing for a team in the bottom half of Serie A.
At his presentation as a Barça player on Tuesday Boateng looked as surprised with the news as everyone else. “I said to my agent I would run all the way to Barcelona, not take the plane. I’m very happy.
“These couple of days have been incredible,” the former Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan star said – unable to hide his awe at the move which had just unfolded.
Boateng made every effort to sell himself as a selfless team player who has no delusions that he will be a starter (“I’m a realist,” he noted). Barcelona need to work hard to sell the move to their fans, too. Sporting director Éric Abidal talked up the attacker’s experience in big games and his knowledge of La Liga.
One journalist even reminded the duo that Boateng once nutmegged the Barça legend in the process of scoring a stunning goal against Barça in the Champions League.
But that was eight years ago, and Barcelona haven’t signed the Boateng of 2011.
Nor have they even signed the Boateng that shone briefly in La Liga, his time there now two seasons in the past.
On Tuesday Abidal and the forward made an effort to turn the questions over his advancing age into a positive, insisting that Boateng has matured into a true centre-forward at Sassuolo and therefore fits the profile of the back-up number nine the Blaugrana are in desperate need of, following the sale of Munir to Sevilla.
The truth is though that while the deal is definitely left-field, it is no stranger than the other name doing the rounds in the Barcelona rumour mill in recent days, Carlos Vela.
If the choice of centre-forward is between a winger playing in MLS, or an attacking midfielder who has developed into a number nine in far more demanding Italy, Boateng suddenly doesn’t seem like the worst of options.
Both pursuits, and this week’s eventual signing, mean there are reasonable questions being raised in Spain about Barça’s transfer strategy in this winter window.
Kevin Prince Boateng's senior career
The former Ghana international has enjoyed a long and winding road to the top...
Hertha BSC – 2004 – 2007
Tottenham Hotspur – 2007 – 2009
Borussia Dortmund (loan) – 2009
Portsmouth – 2009 – 2010
AC Milan – 2010 – 2013
Schalke 04 – 2013 – 2105
AC Milan – 2016
Las Palmas – 2016 – 2017
Eintracht Frankfurt – 2017 2018
Sassuolo – 2018
Barcelona (loan) – 2019 –
Yet the same could be said about when they signed Paulinho, Arturo Vidal, or even Ousmane Dembele, who was in no way considered an adequate replacement for one of the top forwards in the world when Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain.
All of those moves have produced positive results for the Catalans, so perhaps the people making transfer decisions at the Camp Nou know something the critics and online experts don’t.
Even if Boateng and Barcelona deserve the benefit of the doubt, what may yet prove to be a missed opportunity however is the inability to find a player who more closely resembles Suarez in his style of play.
A reasonable case can be made for Boateng as a rotation striker to use in Copa del Rey and less challenging La Liga clashes, in order to give the Uruguayan some much-needed rest considering a persistent knee problem is still bothering the former Liverpool man.
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He could also be a useful joker option from the bench in an effort to switch things up.
But should Barça’s first choice number nine pick up an injury that keeps him out of action, their replacement will be someone who seems likely to struggle to do the same job of pinning defenders back to make vital space for Lionel Messi, or playing one-touch with his back to goal to break down stubborn opposition.
Managing Suarez’s fitness will still be key for the Catalans in their pursuit of both the Champions League and retaining the Spanish title therefore.
On Tuesday night, he made his debut for the Blaugrana at Sevilla in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final – starting up front in place of Suarez.
Unfortunately for Boateng and the travelling fans, it was Sevilla who hold the advantage heading into the second leg after producing a terrific second half performance. Strikes from Pablo Sarabia and Wissam Ben Yedder stunned the Catalans and leave them requiring a second leg comeback at the Camp Nou.
For the new signing from Sassuolo, the night was to end prematurely as Valverde turned to the experienced Suarez in search of a goal, but the game ended in a 2-0 disappointment.
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