As football’s elite European leagues hurtle back into action, the incessant churn of the transfer market has been injected with fresh impetus.
After three football-less months of transfer rumours wildly varying in credibility, one of the more bizarre sagas has actually come to fruition.
Juventus have – somehow – swapped the declining 30-year-old Miralem Pjanic and €12m for Barcelona’s talented Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo, seven years his junior. Although, due to the potential for some financial jiggery-pokery, Arthur has officially moved to Juve for a fee of €72m while Pjanic was bought by Barça for €60m.
Nevertheless, this is unquestionably a win-win situation for Juventus.
In recent years the perennial Serie A champions have developed a reputation for pinching some of Europe’s finest talent – particularly in midfield – when they enter the final year of their contract.
In the summer of 2019 alone, Juve’s squad was bolstered by the addition of both Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot on free transfers (admittedly, the signing-on fees each received were eye-watering but a considerable sum was still saved).
Now the Bianconeri have actually coughed up a fee for some midfield reinforcements and snagged a truly exciting talent who seems to be ready-made for Maurizio Sarri’s side.
Arthur joined Barcelona from Brazilian side Grêmio in 2018 and was immediately heralded as ‘the next Xavi’. Yet, despite the unnecessary burden this tag lumbered him with, Arthur has largely been a success in Catalonia.
The 23-year-old is an intelligent, technically superb passer, who has mostly been deployed on the left-hand side of Barcelona’s midfield three, despite the fact that he is heavily right-footed (96% of his passes are made with his stronger side).
He rarely misplaces a pass and even though some have criticised his supposedly overcautious approach in possession, only three players in La Liga – with at least 300 minutes – average more passes into the opposition’s final third this season. Arthur has also surprisingly become one of Europe’s best dribbling midfielders, nimbly weaving his 5’7 frame between a forest of outstretched legs roughly twice per game.
The only blot on his Barcelona copybook has been a sequence of niggling injuries, particularly this season, which have prevented an extended run in the starting XI.
Arthur was sidelined for six weeks at the turn of the year and his first game back coincided with the arrival of manager Quique Setién. The former Real Betis coach hasn’t exactly inspired a revolution during his pandemic-interrupted time at Camp Nou – with reports suggesting he could be sacked before the season’s conclusion – but his possession-based approach has suited Arthur’s style and prepared the Brazilian for Sarri’s Juve.
After his appointment in the summer, Sarri was given the unenviable task of maintaining Juventus’ relentless domestic dominance, adding continental glory and getting the team to play beautiful football. Understandably he has fallen short, although some of his apologists have pointed to the personnel as an excuse.
Arthur and his quick, precise passing should see him thrive in the style of play Sarri has been trying to foster. Arthur’s compatriot, the former Brazil national team and Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, has been quick to laud the compatibility between the two parties.
“Turin is the ideal place for Arthur,” Scolari told La Gazzetta dello Sport (via Football Italia). “Arthur is able to play one or two touches, so Sarri is the perfect coach for him to express himself. I think it’ll be a wonderful union.”
Whether Juve have deployed a 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-3, the man at the base of the midfield is crucial to the side as the player who dictates the tempo of the game – which has often been too slow this season. For most of the campaign, that man has been Pjanic, the player going in the opposite direction to Arthur.
However, it is not a foregone conclusion that Arthur will replace Pjanic in this particular role.
Scolari suggested that Arthur’s best position is as a number eight, the role he has almost exclusively played at Barcelona. The 71-year-old explained: “He’s not physically that strong, but with positional sense, he can make up for that. I think his ideal role is playing as a second midfielder who distributes the ball. He’s not a traditional deep-lying playmaker, nor a more advanced trequartista [number ten] behind the strikers.”
With that said, Arthur did play as a defensive midfielder during his days at Grêmio and performances in this position persuaded Barcelona to part ways with almost £30m. Sarri might not even have Arthur pencilled down for that position as the 23-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur has admirably filled in for Pjanic.
Given Arthur’s tactical intelligence and the exuberance of youth, there is no reason to doubt that he may enjoy a successful future in that role. But whatever position Sarri chooses for him, Christmas has come early in Turin. The only downside is that they can’t call upon his services for the conclusion of the current campaign.