By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It should have been his breakthrough season at Camp Nou. Young centre-back Marc Bartra had been persistently praised by Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova in the early weeks of the campaign but was largely ignored by the Catalan coach in 2012-13 - despite the club's crisis in central defence.
Bartra came of age with an accomplished appearance against Celtic in the Champions League last October but suffered something of a frustrating season as he played in just 16 games for Barca in 2012-13 and was thrown in at the deep end versus Bayern in Munich - when the Catalans collapsed in a 4-0 reverse - after virtually an entire year among the substitutes. Now, as exclusively revealed by Goal, Tottenham have made an approach to bring him away from the Camp Nou bench.
It is often said that centre-back is the hardest position to fill at Barcelona. The Carles Puyol prototype is a dying breed and even the captain began his career as a full-back before moving inside - and that was at a time when the Catalan club were going through a period of transition, too, with less pressure and expectation than now.
Gerard Pique, meanwhile, was forced to leave the club in order to gain experience elsewhere before ultimately triumphing in the first team and Albert Botia, an established Under-21s international with Spain, was simply surplus to requirements.
While midfielders and forwards can be eased into the side and afforded poor performances, a young defender simply cannot slip up. At the back, mistakes mean goals conceded and, as Tito told the press last season, fielding Bartra too soon could have ruined his career before it had even started.
MARC BARTRA, 22
CENTRE-BACK | BARCELONA
Barca have long thought the stylish centre-back (whose twin brother, Eric, is also a footballer in the lower leagues) would make it in the first team. However, Vilanova was keen to promote his summer signing Song to justify the significant outlay of €19 million (£16.3m), while he is also said to have been unhappy at Bartra's contract clause which stipulated that he had to be moved up to the first team last season.
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That issue was rapidly resolved, despite claims to the contrary, and Bartra has never seriously contemplated leaving Camp Nou. His agent, however, was unhappy at Alex Song's selection in favour of his client. "Bartra is 25,000 times better than Song as a central defender," he told reporters late last year.
The defender is a popular player with his team-mates, at both junior and senior level. Friendly and somewhat shy but extremely intelligent, the youngster is one of a new breed of cultured players and is currently studying a degree to complement his career at Camp Nou.
Tall, fast and strong in the air, the 22-year-old possesses tremendous technical ability and has been compared to Pique because of his elegance and ability to bring the ball out from the back. While similar, it is believed that the pair can go on to form a successful partnership at Camp Nou in the future, though the club hope that Bartra can add strength and muscle to his fragile frame.
Compared by some to Madrid's talented 20-year-old, Raphael Varane, but lacking the physical presence of the Frenchman, Bartra played a key role as Spain's Under-21s side claimed the European Championships earlier in the summer and he could consider a future away from Camp Nou following his lack of game time in 2012-13. That would represent a blow for Barca, still searchng for a defender and without Eric Abidal (who was allowed to leave earlier this summer), but a big boost for Tottenham.
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