Barcelona can boast a lofty lineage of Dutch influence over the years. From the likes of Rinus Michels to former player, manager and club philosopher Johan Cruyff.
After the first trophy-less season since 2008, Barcelona have again turned to the orange-clad Europeans and appointed Ronald Koeman as head coach.
Having helplessly stood by while Lionel Messi unsuccessfully tried to disentangle himself from the web of mismanagement which has come to define the club in recent years, Koeman has now set his sights on the personnel he would bring in to play alongside the want-away Argentinian.
Lyon’s Memphis Depay could prove to be the first arrival under Koeman to add to an ever-expanding list of Dutch internationals to have donned the famous colours of Barcelona. The Catalan behemoth have reportedly agreed terms with the 26-year-old who would certainly be joining a side in transition.
After thrilling with PSV Eindhoven, Depay bounced back from an ill-fated 18 months at Manchester United to reestablish his reputation with Lyon. The mercurial forward is never one to shy away from an effort on goal and has also proven to be adept at laying on chances for his teammates.
In theory, his arrival should take some of the strain off Messi’s remarkably burdened shoulders.
Like most modern forwards, Depay is wonderfully versatile. This not only gives Koeman plenty of options when it comes to deploying his potential new arrival, but it will ensure Depay is comfortable when he is inevitably forced to change position during a match to accommodate the movement of Messi.
If some niggling contract disputes can be ironed out, Luis Suárez’s six-year reign as Barcelona’s front man will come to an end this summer. However, not to be deterred by a disappointing debut campaign, Antoine Griezmann has firmly insisted his immediate future lies in the Camp Nou.
The simplest way to squeeze all three of Depay, Griezmann and Messi into the same starting lineup would be the use of the club’s favoured 4-3-3.
One of the reasons – but far from the sole cause – for Griezmann’s struggles at Barça last season, was the insistence of shunting the World Cup winning striker onto the left flank. Depay is more than capable in this role, having spent sizeable chunks of his career high and wide on the left of a classic 4-3-3. He was voted Dutch Football Talent of the Year in 2015 after a staggering season with PSV in this role.
However, in recent seasons Depay has been deployed in a central role more and more often for club and – crucially – for country. During Koeman’s two-year spell as Netherlands manager, Depay scored 11 goals and laid on 12 assists in 18 matches almost exclusively as the only striker, and regularly at the tip of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
With Depay as the central forward, this system would not only allow Griezmann to drop back into a number ten role he is more than comfortable starting from, and it also opens up room on the left flank for the frighteningly prodigious talent of Ansu Fati to blossom.
But perhaps the main beneficiary of this tactical tweak would be Depay’s international colleague Frenkie de Jong. The 23-year-old midfielder endured a testing debut campaign in Catalonia after arriving from Ajax for a hefty fee of £67.5m.
At the time of his sale, this sum seemed far from eye-watering given the superb performances De Jong had turned out for Ajax on their way to the Champions League semi-finals. In Ajax’s 4-2-3-1, as one of the double pivots, De Jong regularly collected the ball from his centre-backs before driving the team up the pitch, either through an incisive pass or weaving dribble.
Last season, Sergio Busquets was still a staple of Barça’s side as the only holding midfielder in a 4-3-3. De Jong often looked uncomfortable in a more advanced role ahead of the Spaniard which ultimately negated his superb ball progression.
In a more experimental twist, Koeman could even turn to a 3-4-1-2, with Messi, Griezmann and Depay able to interchange within a fluid front-three. The club’s paucity of centre-backs makes this a tad unrealistic but – in the classic Barcelona style of harking back to better times – Koeman strode across the hallowed Camp Nou turf as a player at the heart of a three-man defence as part of Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’.
Nevertheless, wherever he is played, Depay at his best offers numerous threats to opposition backlines and represents a superb addition to most sides. Yet, given the current turmoil Barcelona are embroiled in, he may want to avoid jumping onto what is increasingly resembling a sinking ship.
Edited by Tiyani wa ka Mabasa