When Juventus paid €32m for Miralem Pjanic in the summer of 2016, the overriding feeling in Turin was one of delight.
The Italian giants had once again snatched a real gem from a potential title rival, and he was seen as the long-term replacement for Andrea Pirlo at the heart of the Bianconeri midfield.
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Three years later, and the Bosnian is off to Barcelona, with the promising Arthur Melo heading in the opposite direction. Frankly, Juve can’t quite believe their luck.
Much of the talk has surrounded the financial implications of this deal, and while it’s as baffling as it is confusing, we’re not here to talk about that. You can crunch the numbers here, however. Money in football is a stick often used to beat plenty of supporters, but realistically, it’s something far from our control, and no one really cares how much you paid for a player if he produces the goods for his new team.
Just ask newly-crowned Premier League champions Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and the whole of Liverpool.
So, what exactly will Pjanic bring to Barcelona on the field, and how much sense does this deal make for the Catalan giants? Well, I hate to break it to you, but the short answers to those questions are, ‘not a lot’, and ‘even less’.
It’s hard to put the thought out of your mind of Barća swapping an exciting, dynamic central midfielder for one seven years his senior, and subsequently, any positive spin on Pjanic’s arrival can be quickly tarnished.
But even when setting aside the loss of Arthur, there is still very little to get excited about for the Liga champions.
The Juve midfielder is recognised as one of the most accomplished passers in the game, and his style of play is now based entirely on maintaining possession and setting the tone for the 90 minutes. However, once upon a time, he was so much more than that.
Pjanic performed a much more attacking role during his time at Roma, even bagging ten goals in his final season with the club. But that offensive edge quickly disappeared from his game, and as Bianconeri supporters soon found out, his performances became very one dimensional.
The 30-year-old impressed in his opening season with Juve, adapting to Massimiliano Allegri’s more practical and slower possession-based game, but he has been found wanting when attempting to up the tempo under Maurizio Sarri.
It is this final season under the former Napoli boss that has highlighted the limitations in Pjanic’s game, making his move to Barcelona ever more curious. Despite the many gaps in this Blaugrana side, one thing they don’t lack is a calm passer of the ball.
Barça supporters are crying out for a bit of invention in the midfield, someone who can unlock a defence with a pass and take some of the weight off Lionel Messi’s shoulders when it comes to creating goalscoring opportunities.
Frenkie de Jong could be that player, but he is still adjusting to the demands of La Liga, while exciting La Masia product Riqui Puig has become an instant fan favourite with his determined and precocious displays. So the creativity is there, but perhaps in the form of untapped potential, waiting to be unleashed.
So it seems unlikely Pjanic will take up a more advanced role, meaning he will be forced to compete with the likes of Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto for the remaining midfield spots. Busquets is possibly the best holding midfielder in world football though, and for the specific style of football that Barça play, there is no one better to perform that task.
That may leave a final position in the midfield open for someone to control the game in the opponent’s half, playing simple passes into those more technically or offensively gifted. That is something Pjanic has become very accustomed to in recent years. In fact, his over-reliance on a simple ball, rather than taking a risk, has led to the stagnant and labouring performances for Juve of late.
Plus, any combination of a three-man midfield feels very lightweight with Pjanic in the mix, with all the alternatives feeling very similar and one-paced to each other. Not really what Barcelona need – again.
There is a role in the side for Pjanic, then. Many do believe that he possesses the ‘Barça DNA’ required to slot nicely into the team. But time is not on the Bosnian’s side, and after showing signs of decline this year, he’ll have to work extremely hard to reach his peak a second time.
Having caused Arthur’s departure with his own arrival, the ex-Roma man will become even more unpopular if he is the reason behind Puig or De Jong missing out on valuable first-team football next season – a crime that will infuriate supporters beyond belief.
Basically, Pjanic has been dealt a losing hand from the start. In order to win over this prickly fanbase, he will have to do something special. Unfortunately, ‘special’ is a word that has been missing from his dictionary for some time now.