The next 10 days look to be crucial in deciding whether Aleix Vidal has a future at Barcelona - and whether the La Liga giants will enter the transfer market in January to secure a new right-back.
Vidal was a surprise signing by Barca in the summer of 2015, when he joined for €17 million from Sevilla knowing he would not be unable to play for six months due to a FIFA ban on registering new players.
Even after making his debut in January 2016, the situation has not really improved for the one-time Barca [and Real Madrid, and Espanyol] youth-teamer. Blaugrana coach Luis Enrique has never seemed to really rate him, and towards the end of last season even the extra-unpopular Douglas was occasionally preferred as cover on the bench.
It seemed when Dani Alves left for Juventus last summer that a space might be opening up for Vidal at right-back. He started each of Barca’s first three pre-season games there, including a 0-4 defeat to Liverpool, but former midfielder Sergi Roberto soon established himself as the clear first choice in the position. Luis Enrique seems to have clear doubts especially over Vidal’s positioning and aggression in defence. Which is not too surprising considering he had relatively little experience at right-back prior to joining Barca.
Vidal’s only La Liga appearance of 2016/17 was to start at home to Alaves, and then be directly responsible for the newly promoted side’s second goal in their shock 2-1 win at the Camp Nou. Since then Barca have had six games in all competitions, and the Puigpelat-born player has not even made the match squad for any of them.
In the meantime, Vidal took to Instagram with a cryptic post which many interpreted as a quite crude message to his boss, although the player himself denied this, saying it was instead an insult for reporters who try to create a bad atmosphere where none exists. These same reporters [including at AS] then claimed Vidal had told his teammates that he was fed up with the situation and wanted to leave.
Before the current international break, Luis Enrique was asked about Vidal’s Instagram message and replied: “It’s his life and people are free to give their opinions.” The blaugrana coach did, however, leave the door at least half open - saying that other players’ hard work in training had changed his mind before.
Sergi Roberto getting injured on international duty with Spain has now opened up a window for Vidal to do just that. The versatile youngster looks sure to miss at least Barca’s La Liga game at home to Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday afternoon, and more importantly next Wednesday comes their Champions League group meeting with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Camp Nou sources have this week told well-connected Mundo Deportivo that senior figures at club are now planning a meeting with Vidal to get him to get focused on working hard and contributing for the team. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen.
An end to the saga seems quite likely as early as January, with Sport recently claiming that Inter Milan were standing by to make an offer. Other clubs mentioned in speculation range from Premier League’s Liverpool and Sunderland to La Liga’s Granada to Serie A’s AC Milan, without an on the record confirmation of any interest yet. The Catalan club will now struggle to recoup even half of their €17 million outlay, given Vidal has barely played recently and is already 27.
Reports also say that Barca have already got on with planning to bring in a right-back once the winter transfer window opens. The five players currently on sporting director Robert Fernandez’s monitoring list are said to be Valencia's Joao Cancelo, Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich, Shakhtar Donetsk's Darijo Srna, Arsenal's Hector Bellerin and Juventus' Stephan Lichtsteiner.
A return to Barca for ex La Masia youth prospect Bellerin would be particularly attractive for fans and pundits at the Catalan club, although there are doubts over whether Barca can tempt him back, especially with Guardiola and City also said to be interested. A loan / swap arrangement for Portugal international Cancelo has been mooted, but there could be potential third-party ownership issues to resolve for that to take place. Croatian veteran Srna, now 34 and possibly available on a short term contract, might be the easiest deal to get done.
There is still an outside chance that Vidal can turn the situation around, impress his boss with his commitment and tenacity, and become an important player in the Barca squad. However, the last time Luis Enrique chose an XI without Sergi Roberto, he changed the shape of his side, went 3-4-3 at Leganes, and won the game easily. Should the Asturian coach make a similar decision against Deportivo on Saturday or City on Wednesday, the writing really will be on the wall.