Football Features

Arturo Vidal: Barcelona’s answer to a question nobody asked

By Muhammad Butt

Arturo Vidal: Barcelona transfer analysis

Published: 15:26, 8 January 2020

Arturo Vidal is in a curious situation at Barcelona, and not just because he’s currently suing the club.

Representatives of the Chilean are taking legal action against Barcelona over unpaid bonuses, although he said: “the person in charge of this is not me. For that, it’s my representative and my lawyer, who takes care of these bonuses.” So by his account, he’s not being actively hostile himself.

Still, his position at the club is bizarre because he’s wanted by Inter Milan, whose coach Antonio Conte worked with the Chilean at Juventus and wants to do so again. Meanwhile, Barcelona don’t seem to want to sell him, even though he’s technically suing the club.

But why don’t they want to sell him? You’d think the chance to make a profit (or break even) on a 32-year-old midfielder soon to be 33 who is suing a club would make him a prime candidate to be sold as soon as possible, right?

Ordinarily, yes, but the thing is Arturo Vidal is sensational at what he does.

And what does he do?

Tackle and score, basically.

Vidal plays football like a child, endlessly running after the ball to win it back and when team-mates have it he runs into the box to try and score. His time with Pep Guardiola in Munich has taught him a little bit of control and composure but mostly he’s football’s answer to the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil. A whirlwind of absolute chaos.

Arturo Vidal

But it’s in that chaos where he thrives.

Vidal has scored six goals in La Liga this season. Only Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann have more. Vidal’s ability to score marks him out as unique amongst Barcelona midfielders. As does his tackling.

In La Liga so far this season Vidal has made 36 tackles. That’s more than any other Barcelona player despite the fact that he has played just 569 minutes. He is a tackle machine. He has an utterly preposterous 5.69 tackles per-90 minutes (the highest amongst all La Liga players who have played at least 90 minutes).

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So that’s why Barcelona don’t want to sell. Vidal does things no other Barça midfielders can. But here’s the thing: should they even be trying? Alright, when it comes to goals you can’t argue, players should always try and score goals if they can. But the tackles? That’s the big thing for Vidal’s defenders, they point out how crucial the Chilean is because his tackling ability is so important to Barcelona‘s performances. Vidal may not be the midfielder Barcelona deserve, but he’s the one they need right now.

When you think about it, though, Barcelona shouldn’t need midfielders to make 5.69 tackles per 90 minutes. They are a team built to play passing football. Their goalkeeper loves to pass, their defence is way better on the front foot, their midfield has Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong in it and Messi runs their attack so that it is full of selflessness and interplay. Fast or slow, they need to play with composure and consideration, especially in midfield. That is the heartbeat of the side and the rhythm needs to be a steady one.

In other words, Arturo Vidal and his tackle-mania, EKG flying all over the place like an earthquake, is the answer to a question no one asked. Or, at least, a question no one should be asking at Barcelona. He makes the match into chaos, and in that chaos he thrives, but on the whole he drags the team down.

He pulls them further away from what they could and should be and makes the team play to a tune to which it is ill-suited, but a team which suits his characteristics perfectly. So everyone else looks bad, while he (and Luis Suárez, another chaos-master – but in attack where it is more easily contained) looks good.

Meanwhile, Antonio Conte’s Inter is the perfect kind of environment for Vidal’s helter-skelter approach. There his chaos is wanted, because Conte loves to inject a bit of that into his teams. His Juve side had the chaos of Vidal and Paul Pogba in midfield and Carlos Tevez up front.

Conte yearns for that chaos, and if his Inter come back in for Vidal then Barcelona should absolutely sell. Move Vidal on to a place where he will be perfectly at home and promote Riqui Puig, the La Masia graduate who is the midfielder they deserve, and the one they need right now. A midfielder who perfectly suits their style of play and will amplify the whole side. Nothing less than a knight, shining.