While Josep Guardiola’s decision last term not to opt for a new contract with Barcelona was arguably football’s worst kept secret of the 2011/12 season, another player dropped genuinely shocking news after the former Barcelona coach was confirmed as Bayern Munich’s new man in charge starting from next season.
With a contract expiring at the end of the 2013/14 campaign, Barcelona entered talks to extend the stay of their primary goalkeeper Victor Valdes, only to be stunned by the news that their first-choice man between the sticks for the past ten years has decided not to continue his fairy tale with his formative club. As farfetched as it may seem, to the Cules faithful, Valdes will soon play his football elsewhere – the club could cash in on him this summer, as opposed as seeing him leave for free in 2014.
“It is not the time for me to be worrying about it, there is still time. I’m focused on winning games. My dream is to retire here… time will tell”, declared the Catalan at the turn of the new year, before going on to hint that he may well search for pastures new in the future. “I have spent 11 years here and as goalkeeper it is difficult in many ways. I do not rule out other cultures, other football, other countries, we will see.”
For Barcelona fans, that was just talk. Why would their much-loved keeper ever think of leaving? They have supported him through his hard times, as detractors often singled him out in previous seasons, doubting his actual abilities in a system where goalkeepers are not often forced to make game-saving saves. At Barcelona, he plays for the best, enjoys an unparalleled support system that will surely not exist elsewhere, and has been a constant fixture ever since claiming the number 1 spot in the 2003/04 season. Third-team captain, he had no reason to leave.
The motives behind Valdes’ change of heart are still mysterious, but the outcome is the same. His days at Barcelona are dwindling and the current season may even be his last.
After the news was confirmed, Barcelona took the decision with a great sense of responsibility and announced that they were sticking with Valdes until the moment he packs his bags for good, according to sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta: “We are asking you [the supporters] to continue supporting him and to encourage him as much as you have done throughout his career. He is committed to this jersey until 30th June 2014 and will defend the goal with everything he has and knows.”
There will be many clubs interested in the services of Valdes. A decorated goalkeeper who has won almost every trophy in the game: the Spanish league on five occasions, the Champions League three times, as well as the World Cup and European Championship with Spain. He also holds a plethora of individual honours, such as the Ricardo Zamora trophy for La Liga’s best goalkeeper, won a record five times. Had it not been for a certain Iker Casillas, then he would have surely been La Roja’s first-choice glovesman in recent years.
Another Spanish club for Valdes is unlikely. He has Barcelona at heart and representing another team in La Liga could make him an unpopular figure. The Premier League, naturally, may be an option. Furthermore, the prospect of lucrative deals at either Paris Saint-Germain or Zenit St. Petersburg could even make France or Russia a surprise destination.
The problem does not lie with Valdes finding a new club, but with Barcelona finding a new reliable goalkeeper. As the elite side in the world, they will want a top-draw shot-stopper, and as their philosophy goes, a man technically gifted with his feet as well as with his hands. With Jose Manuel Pinto number two, the side do not have a classy young goalkeeper to call upon. Naturally, Sandro Rosell’s club find themselves in an uneasy predicament.
A vote of Barcelona fans picked a preference for Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer making a sensational switch to the Camp Nou. Such a move could leave the way clear for Valdes to go to Germany, but that is an unlikely turn of events.
In Munich, Guardiola does not hold the final say on transfers, so it is near impossible to see the Bayern Munich hierarchy replacing Neuer with Valdes, who just landed at the club last term following a €22M move from foes Schalke. As the second most expensive goalkeeper of all-time and one of the best in the modern game today, a swap deal involving him and Valdes remains fantasy football.
Other names such as Thibaut Courtois and Vicente Guaita have been added to the fray. The Atletico Madrid keeper will surely return to Chelsea at some point though, and the Blues will unlikely let him leave given the fact that they see him as Petr Cech’s replacement at the club. Guaita is a different case however, as Valencia’s fiscal instabilities might force them to give up their ascending gem, as was the case with Jordi Alba last summer.
But understanding Barcelona, the most likely answer will come from within the club. Barcelona may well choose not to spend millions on a player that is very much shielded and protected from actual danger, due to the Cules’ possession-based style of play. In the end, promoting Barcelona B vice-captain and goalkeeper Oier Olazabal will be an idea under serious consideration when Valdes packs his bags for good.
There is a slight possibility that the player might eventually opt to stay at the Camp Nou, should the club propose an offer that he cannot refuse. With a year and a half left on his contract, all options are available at the moment. However, the announcement came as a major shock for Barcelona and as things stand, they are poised to lose their man. Finding a suitable replacement will be a tough task.
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