Thomas Vermaelen is refusing to accept his place in the Barcelona side is assured, despite the Catalans paying £15million for his signature.
The former Ajax defender has cut a frustrated figure in recent times at Arsenal, with injuries and the former of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker restricting his time on the pitch. Last season, for example, he made only 21 appearances in all competitions, of which just 13 were starts, and although he lift the FA Cup in May he did so after watching the entire match from the substitute bench.
This has also had a detrimental impact on his international career as, although he was still selected by Marc Wilmots this summer, he started just one of Belgium’s five matches in the World Cup Finals. With just one year remaining on his contract at the Emirates Stadium, it was little surprise that the 28-year-old has been a regular name in the transfer gossip columns since the end of last season.
Manchester United had been keen to take him to Old Trafford as Louis van Gaal looks to implement a new system of three centre-halves, and the Dutch coach made an offer for his signature last week. However, the Reds ended their interest when Arsene Wenger insisted on Chris Smalling, the England international defender, be included as part of the transfer, which was of no interest to the Manchester club.
The Gunners had also made it clear that should Vermaelen leave they would prefer he joined an overseas club, so when Barcelona registered their desire to sign him, they were also likely to be in with a good chance. The Spanish giants made had a £15million bid accepted for the player, and after agreeing personal terms on a five-year contract and passing a medical, the Belgian was unveiled on Sunday afternoon.
The Kapellen-born ace will hope to partner Gerard Pique in the heart of the Barca back-four, following the retirement of the legendary Carles Puyol. However, his time spent on the Arsenal bench has obviously taught him that there are no guarantees in football, particularly when you join a club with such high demands as Barcelona.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “It’s a dream for many players to be here and I’ve achieved it. I will play with the best, I will train with them every day and I hope to improve. I will try and adapt as soon as possible. It’s one of the biggest clubs in the world. Therefore, it wasn’t a difficult decision to come here. When you come to a club as big as Barca you have to prove your worth and playing time is not a given. Barca’s centre-backs are very good, there is competition, but it’s up to me to show I can play here.”
Having finished second to Atletico Madrid in La Liga last season and runners-up to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, as well as crashing out of the UEFA Champions League at the quarter-final stage to Atletico, Barca axed coach Gerardo Martino and replaced him with their former midfield player Luis Enrique, previously of Celta Vigo.
As well as Vermaelen, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jeremy Mathieu have all been added to the squad since last term. And as they look to return to the head of football at home and abroad, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has revealed that there may be more arrivals before the window closes.
“What I can say is that at midnight on 31 August we hope to have the best squad possible,” he said. “Even though we are very happy with the players that we have if there is a chance to improve it, we will try. Until the 1st or 2nd [of September], when we talk about the market being closed, anything could happen.”