FEATURE | How has Martin Braithwaite ended up at FC Barcelona in February?

With both Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé being sidelined long-term, it was clear that the Blaugrana needed to bring in some cover up front, but the way they went about it was typical of the chaos behind the scenes at the Camp Nou this season.

There was the failed move for Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno, which stumbled based on the fact they couldn’t afford his buy-out clause and even extended to a bizarre rumour that they were about to hijack Manchester United’s move for Bruno Fernandes and use him in a swap deal with Valencia.

Then Everton announced to the world that they had rejected a €100m offer for Richarlison, which given the problems Barça encountered in getting the Rodrigo deal over the line, seemed rather fanciful.

Finally, on transfer deadline day, they had seemingly agreed to sign former Villarreal man Cedric Bakambu, only to pull out of the deal at the last minute, informing him after he had already started his journey to Spain.

The news that Dembélé would be ruled out for six months and would miss the rest of the season gave them an opportunity to atone for these blunders in the transfer market.

La Liga rules allow transfers outside the window in exceptional circumstances such as if a player is ruled out long-term. The only conditions are that the player must be signed from another Spanish club or be a free agent.

Moves for Willian José and Loren Moron were rumoured but swiftly ruled out when Real Sociedad and Real Betis refused to sell for anything less than the buy-out clause. Ángel from Getafe was strongly linked with some press going as far as to say his goal at the Camp Nou last weekend meant he’d “passed his audition” but that died out quickly afterwards as Barcelona set their sights on another man playing in the southern suburbs of Madrid, Leganés’ Martin Braithwaite, with a deal being announced on Thursday morning.

What do Barça get from Braithwaite?

Well, he’s a dynamic and versatile forward, who can play through the middle or drop off into wider positions, which would appear to make him a good fit for the type of football Quique Setién wants to play. His pace will be a welcome asset as well.

He’s weighed in with a few goals in big games for Leganés since joining them last January. He scored the winner against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey only a couple of weeks after joining. He also scored his first La Liga goal at the Camp Nou, as Lega gave Barcelona a real fright before eventually going down 3-1.

For Braithwaite himself, this is a chance he probably never thought he would get. The opportunity to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, alongside some of the best players and maybe win a La Liga medal this season was hardly something he would have factored into his thinking when he was in the midst of a relegation battle at Butarque.

There’s every chance his stay at the Camp Nou could be fleeting, if he is moved on in the summer it is unlikely the Barça board will hold out for the rumoured €300m buy-out clause that had been inserted in his contract.

If you were in his position would you do the same?

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Leganés in all of this. The rules don’t allow them to sign an emergency replacement, so they will have to soldier on with what they have.

Powerless to stop Braithwaite from leaving, they have criticised the rule as yet another example of La Liga being set up to the big clubs’ advantage. It’s hard to disagree with them. Even if they were allowed to make an emergency signing, the chances of finding a player of the requisite quality, with an affordable buy-out clause and reasonable salary demands would seem slim.

This winter they’ve lost both their starting strikers, Youssef En-Nesyri to Sevilla and now Braithwaite, because someone has come in and matched their buy-out clause. Those two players account for 56% of Los Pepineros goals in La Liga this season. It puts a lot of pressure on Guido Carillo and the recently-returned Miguel Ángel Guerrero to step up and lead the club to safety.

Andrew Gillan

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