Barcelona have officially confirmed the signing of Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia for a reported fee of 20 million euros. Newly appointed coach Luis Enrique and Andoni Zubizarreta both agree that the 30-year-old defender will improve the team's defensive capabilities thanks to his height, experience and positioning.
While it is clear that Mathieu was a key factor for his former team's relative success last season, I must admit that the huge amount of money paid for a player who will be 31 years of age in a couple of months is disappointing. Barcelona now have the arguable honour of having just signed the most expensive defender over 30 in football history.
After five seasons without signing any pure centre-backs -- the last one? Flop Dymytro Chygrynskiy during the Pep Guardiola era -- Cules were certainly expecting the arrival of a world-class defender instead. After years of endless rumours about names like Thiago Silva, David Luiz or Mats Hummels, it will be very difficult for the highly demanding Camp Nou faithful to understand the record fee paid for a Frenchman who couldn't make his national team for the 2014 World Cup.
Don't get me wrong; Mathieu could very well be the short-term answer for Barca's defensive troubles. His imposing height (192 cms, or 6-foot-2) will instantly make Luis Enrique's team more likely to succeed at defending corners and set pieces, but due to his age, I can't help but feeling that the club will have to start looking for his replacement in a couple of years' time -- if he proves his worth in the meantime, that is.
Let's just hope that club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and Zubizarreta continue to work towards adding yet another centre-half this summer, something they promised as soon as the transfer window opened last month. If they can also attract at least one of Jan Vertonghen, Daley Blind or Hummels, I believe that a defensive line also including the likes of Gerard Pique, Marc Bartra and newly arrived Mathieu should be enough to face the challenges the new season will certainly throw the Catalans' way.
Having said all of the above, I also believe that Enrique should focus on ensuring his team defend as a unit from the very moment they lose possession, as was the case during the very successful Guardiola years. A team that is capable of recovering the ball within seconds is less likely to give clear chances away at the back.
Ivan Rakitic has a much clearer defensive side to his game than classic Barca midfielders such as Xavi and Andres Iniesta, something the team has been missing since Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita left. If returning to his preferred holding midfielder position as expected, Javier Mascherano would also add some of that missing aggressive spark in front of the back four. The threat of losing his starting spot to the courageous Argentinean should also spur Sergio Busquets on to finally become the world-class player he has the potential to be.
The impact of Luis Suarez's arrival (he won't be eligible to play until mid-November) will also stop rivals building comfortably out from their defensive third. His aggressive, never-give-up attitude will be a major improvement which the team desperately needed.
Here's wishing Mathieu the very best during his time at Barcelona, regardless of his unreasonable price tag. From this point on he must be given the full support from the Blaugrana community and given enough trust and confidence to ensure his time at the Camp Nou is a success.
As for the board of directors: Time to get back to work, Zubi! The unavoidable task of renovating the team is nowhere near finished yet.