What does Alex Song bring to Barcelona?

As Alex Song completed his rather surprising transfer from Arsenal to Barcelona, the questions began: What exactly would Song provide to Barca? Where would he fit into a midfield filled with the talents of messrs Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta, a midfield where former team-mate Cesc Fabregas is not a regular?

After a tough start to his Arsenal career, Song emerged as a first team regular nominally in a defensive midfield role. With the likes of Fabregas and Samir Nasri weaving patterns ahead, Song was tasked with offering them and the defence protection. The last couple of seasons however have seen Song adapt his game, galloping forward to get goals and after Fabregas’ departure for Barcelona, take on the mantle of Arsenal’s most creative midfield influence. The results, as the video below shows, were remarkable as Song led the Gunners‘ assist charts with 14. His link up with Robin Van Persie in particular caught the eye, with the video perfectly showcasing Song’s trademark chipped pass for the Dutchman to volley home.

It is such flashes of inspiration that have surely provoked Barcelona’s new coach Tito Villanova into making a move for Song. Certainly, the Catalans will not have been too enamoured by Song’s defensive work, which since his breakthrough season has slowly dwindled as he charged forward. Indeed, as important as Song’s assists and eye-of-the-needle passes were to the Gunners last season, there are some who point to 49 goals conceded and ask what Song as the defensive shield was doing so upfield?    

So what can Song bring to Barcelona creatively that they don’t already possess? For one, it seems a stretch to believe that Song will even be breaking into not only a two times Champions League winning midfield for the Catalans, but internationally for Spain, a two times European Championship and World Cup winning midfield. Secondly, Song’s trademark chipped passes, though undoubtedly brilliant, are alien to Barca’s on the floor, razor-sharp interplay. This is not even mentioning how for every successful chipped pass, there would often be several more that sailed into the crowd. At Barca, such wastefulness will not be tolerated. Similarly, Song’s lackadaisical attitude both on the pitch and off it has been called into the question, particularly after Arsenal sources leaked news of Song’s “lazy and casual” attitude to pre-season training. At the Camp Nou, where 100% effort and commitment are a prerequisite in order for the team’s high tempo, high pressure style to succeed, any evidence of such casualness from Song would be a disaster.

It appears that Song has been bought to replace Seydou Keita, who departed for China this summer having spent years as Barca’s go-to utility man off the bench. Keita proved to be a real fans’ favourite coming off the bench to help see out games and proving a solid, dependable presence. If fully focused, Song can provide similar assets. Additionally, his past experience in central defence could see him become a useful foil to Gerard Pique. Javier Mascherano, for all his assets, can often struggle when asked to play out from the back, a must for the Barcelona backline. In this instance, Song would have no such problems. Additionally, the Cameroonian’s possible defensive deficiencies would surely not be so highlighted to the extent that they were at the Emirates, such is Barca’s mastery of possession.

Song’s signing is undoubtedly one that carries risks for Villanova and Barcelona. From highlights reels such as the video below, it might appear to them that they are signing some kind of box to box midfield pass master. The fear is however that they are signing someone entirely atypical, both in style and in attitude to the one that has made La Blaugrana so successful.

Adam Mazrani

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