By Ben Hayward
Former Barcelona defender Miguel Angel Nadal believes the Catalan club made a mistake by failing to recruit a central defender in the summer transfer window.
Barca bid for Chelsea's David Luiz and Liverpool's Daniel Agger in July, while the Spanish champions were also left frustrated as top target Thiago Silva committed his future to Paris Saint-Germain.
In the end, new coach Gerardo Martino opted to stick with the squad at his disposal, with captain Carles Puyol closing in on a return following knee surgery on a persistent problem in June,
"Puyol is our signing," sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said on Tuesday. "We were unable to achieve the objective of signing a centre-back so, with 'Tata' Martino, we decided to stay as we are. Puyol's recovery has been very good."
But the Catalan defender is 35, increasingly prone to injury and cannot cope with the demands of a long season at this stage of his career, while Zubizarreta and president Sandro Rosell have come under fire this summer for their inability to attract a defender after signing Neymar back in May.
And Nadal, who played as a centre-back under Johan Cruyff in Barca's legendary Dream Team, claims the Catalans could regret their failure to improve their backline this summer.
"Everybody could see Barcelona needed to sign a centre-back," the former Spain international told Goal. "If you look at where Barcelona needed to strengthen, it was in defence.
"If you are talking about urgencies then perhaps you have to pay more, but you can maybe sign a player to cover several positions, like [Javier] Mascherano, who started off in midfield. But either way, it's an area where Barcelona needed to strengthen."
However, the Blaugrana sought such a solution last summer by signing midfielder Alex Song from Arsenal and the Cameroonian has been used sparingly in defence ever since a nightmare display in Seville early last season.
Meanwhile, it is often said that Barca struggle to identify suitable centre-backs because the Catalans seek a player who possesses sound technique, plus the ability to operate high up the pitch.
"I think that is naturally required," Nadal added. "But I don't think it's everything. If a player is technically gifted then all the better; playing for Barcelona is never easy but I think they can find the profile [of player] they are looking for.
"It's a position in which I don't feel it is necessary to shine with so much technique because Barcelona have great technique all over the pitch."
Gerard Pique and Mascherano are currently the first-choice pairing for Barca, with Puyol on the road to recovery and youngster Marc Bartra another alternative. Sergio Busquets has also deputised at the back in recent seasons, although the Catalans have encountered problems against strong sides such as Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich when forced to use midfielders at the back.
Barca have also changed coach, with Martino moving to Camp Nou after Tito Vilanova stepped down to continue treatment for cancer earlier in the summer. And Nadal claims the current campaign could prove complicated for his former club,
"Every time there is a change of coach, there are other changes," he explained. "Barcelona have a very defined style, but there hasn't been much time [for Martino to settle in].
"I think the team could find it difficult this year to reach the level and the style of recent seasons."
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