Sergi Roberto’s versatility would be of great use to Chelsea and Man Utd as Barca risk losing him for just €40m

Continuing confusion around the Camp Nou could see Barcelona lose key squad player Sergi Roberto without meaning to this summer as Premier League sides Manchester United or Chelsea, or maybe even Manchester City, can take advantage to get the versatile midfielder cum-right-back at a bargain €40 million fee.

Until recently it was assumed that the La Masia graduate and now full Spain international, 25, was sure to stay on at Barca and quite possibly develop into a key first team member under new coach Ernesto Valverde.

However, a summer which is quickly turning into an epic disaster for Barca’s board could take another unfortunate step. Both United and Chelsea are said to be eager to pay Sergi Roberto’s release clause, with the player himself now quite understandably considering whether the time is right to look for a new challenge elsewhere.

It was a surprise to some blaugrana fans and pundits when Sergi Roberto was not in the XI for Barca’s first competitive game of the season, Sunday night’s dramatic 3-1 Clasico Supercopa defeat to Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. His versatility and intelligence could have been useful at right-back where Aleix Vidal was out of his depth. Or as an extra midfielder instead of giving Gerard Deulofeu the impossible task of ‘replacing’ Neymar on the left wing. 

In his first big test Valverde perhaps wanted to make a positive statement with his own team, but last year’s boss Luis Enrique would surely have chosen a more pragmatic approach. The decision may have been impacted by speculation over the Reus-born player’s future, and the former Athletic Bilbao coach chose his words carefully when asked on Saturday whether an exit was possible.

“When this happens we will take the decisions which we believe advisable,” Valverde said. “That would be to get too far ahead of ourselves. Sergi Roberto is very important for us.” 

Valverde did then send on Sergi Roberto for an ailing Andres Iniesta midway through the second half at the Camp Nou, although he was unable to help things as Madrid confirmed their current status as Spain’s [and the world’s] best side with their 3-1 victory.

Monday then saw confirmation that Barca were spending €40 million to sign Paulinho from Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande. That added another midfielder to a list which also includes Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Andre Gomes, Rafinha, Sergi Samper, Denis Suarez, Arda Turan and Carles Aleña. If they do manage to add Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele this month, competition for places will be fierce.

Such 'overbooking' stems from ongoing confusion off the pitch at the Camp Nou, which has been underlined by this week's public disagreements between newly appointed 'general manager' Pep Segura and senior dressing room leaders Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique. 

On Monday, long-time blaugrana observer Ramon Besa quoted Johan Cruyff in an El Pais article which wondered what stars like Lionel Messi and Iniesta must think of the current situation. “They never knew why team won, so how would they know now why they're losing,” Cruyff said about the Barca board during his time as coach, and the sentiment holds true today too.

Amid all this it is not difficult to imagine players, and not just Sergi Roberto, wondering if the grass might be greener elsewhere. The La Masia graduate is a quietly spoken character, but has shown steely determination and won over many Barca fans by how he went about winning a place in the team at right-back last season.

He has also proved his worth as an extra midfielder or even winger in big games, where his tactical intelligence and engine have allowed Messi and company to shine. With his current contract up in 2019, he has been due a new deal and a pay-rise for some time now, but the club’s distracted board have characteristically allowed the situation to reach this point.

Sergi Roberto’s versatility and quality would also surely be of interest to United manager Jose Mourinho, and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte. It is also perhaps surprising that Man City have not been mentioned more in the speculation, especially considering it was Pep Guardiola who gave him his first real senior appearance, as a 19-year-old, in a Champions League semi-final at the Bernabeu in 2011. Juventus, maybe the canniest market operators at the moment, are also said to be monitoring the situation.

Paulinho's signing has led to a ramping up of the speculation in the Catalan media, and by Tuesday's pre-Supercopa second leg press conference Valverde was much more forceful when the issue came up.

“Sergi Roberto is important for our team,” he said. “That he has not played so much so far, or started games [in pre-season], is not important. I am counting on him for this season.”

But the feeling is that the situation may already have gotten out of Barca's control. His release clause looks so attractive to Premier League suitors now as it dates from January 2015, well before this summer's inflation which is seeing players like Kyle Walker and Gylfi Sigurdsson go for much higher fees. Slowness in securing the future of the last homegrown player to become a regular in the first team means a new Thiago to Bayern Munich style embarrassment could be on the cards.

Losing Sergi Roberto now, for the same €40 million price which is being spent on Paulinho, would be another dreadful PR disaster for Barca’s beleaguered board. But from the player’s perspective a move away this month would make an awful lot of sense.