Jean Michael Seri: The €40m midfield maestro who is ready-made for Barcelona

Mario Balotelli may have grabbed most of the headlines during Nice’s remarkable run to a third-place Ligue 1 finish last season, but the transfer rumour mill has ensured that the true architect of the Côte d’Azur side’s outstanding campaign has taken centre-stage.

Wanted by Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain, Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michaël Seri has suddenly become the most wanted player in Europe. The diminutive playmaker may not be a household name just yet, but if his dream move becomes reality, he will soon be starring alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Neymar.

Barcelona have reportedly made Seri their number one summer target and have even contacted the player’s representatives to thrash out the particulars of a deal which could be worth up to €40million to Les Aiglons – a fair profit considering the French side picked the player up from Portuguese side Paços de Ferreira for around €1million two years ago.

A move to the Premier League could potentially net Seri a more lucrative salary, while a switch to PSG would present the easiest transition, but having grown up idolising former Camp Nou hero Xavi, the 25-year-old has been clear in his desire to represent the Blaugrana.

“If Barça comes to sign you, you can’t say no. No way,” he told Barcelona-based newspaper Mundo Deportivo last month.

“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 culé [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.”

Barcelona fans may have been wishing for another Ligue 1 central midfielder, Marco Verratti, to arrive in Catalonia this summer, but Seri is a much more viable option for the Spanish side and is arguably just as good a fit for a side new manager Ernesto Valverde will be hoping to revitalise next term

Stylistically, Seri blends some of the attributes that have made both Iniesta and Xavi so successful over the last decade-and-a-half, as well as offering more of a goal threat than both.

Last season, only Monaco’s Thomas Lemar (10) registered more Ligue 1 assists than Seri (nine), while the Nice midfielder also chipped in with seven goals from his central midfield berth in Lucien Favre’s side. No Barcelona midfielder laid on as many assists last term and only Ivan Rakitić (eight) found the net more often in La Liga.

Standing at just 5ft 5ins, the Ivory Coast international is far from an imposing figure in the centre of the park, but his impressive upper-body strength, combined with an immaculate first touch and sound anticipation, ensures that he is seldom knocked off the ball. 

The Camp Nou turf has been the home of gifted yet diminutive creators for the best part of the last two decades, but Seri should not be mistaken for a shrinking violet. Initially regarded as a defensive midfielder at the Allianz Riviera, the former Porto B team player is tireless, committed and disciplined when out of possession, making one interception and 1.1 tackles per 90 minutes last term.

However, it is his creative instincts that would make him a hit with Barça fans. A pass accuracy of 89.5 per cent means he is as neat and tidy in possession as is required of any Barcelona player. His willingness to get on the ball and dictate play is evidenced by the fact that no player in Ligue 1 made more passes than Seri last season (2835), and his average of 85.4 passes per 90 minutes ranked third of all the players with 15 or more appearances in the French top flight.

Indeed, none of Barcelona’s pass masters saw as much of the ball per 90 minutes last season as Seri did for Nice.

Seri is unafraid to take risks with these passes too. When a defence needs unlocking, the 25-year-old is equipped with a skeleton key of incisive through-balls as well as the vision to spot the runs of team-mates and identify spaces as they begin to open up. Only Neymar (3.1) and Messi (2.5) made more key passes per 90 than Seri (2.2) in 2016/17.

Of all his technical attributes, though, it may be Seri’s dribbling, rather than his passing, that would be of greatest value to Barcelona. The 12-cap Ivory Coast man is unlikely to be seen setting of on a slaloming gallop from the halfway line into the opposition’s penalty area, but he is an incredibly gifted dribbler in confined areas and over short distances.

This will be a major weapon against pressing teams for Barça. One of the main differences between the Blaugrana under Luis Enrique over the last three years and the glory days of Pep Guardiola’s tenure is that Barcelona are no longer unsusceptible to a high press. Where there would once utilise rapid passing triangles to work their way through the pressure and open up spaces in behind the opposition, they have come to look flustered when their time on the ball is limited in such a way.

With Seri’s ability to jink away from a challenge to create a pocket of space, he would help relieve the pressure he and his team-mates find themselves under. Only Iniesta (2.2) of Barça’s regular cast of central midfielders can top the Nice star’s average of 1.3 dribbles per 90 last term.

With a host of top clubs hot on his tail, Seri’s future is far from settled and he may yet find himself plying his trade at PSG, Arsenal or Spurs. But if Barça win the race for his signature, they will be getting a player ready-made for the Camp Nou, and one capable of breathing new life into Valverde’s side.