€20 million for a 30-year-old center-back who’s not really a center-back. This was the sum Barcelona paid Valencia for French fullback Jeremy Mathieu who arrived at the Camp Nou to fill a void left by former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol in the heart of the defense. Fast forward nine months and the defender could potentially be the reason Barcelona will win the La Liga this season.
The signing of Mathieu meant that he became the most expensive defender of all time aged over 30. The fans and media heavily criticized the Blaugrana for signing him, afterall, Barcelona were hit with a transfer ban which means that whether he performs well or not, they had to stick with him. The 30-year-old was a left-back for most of his career but has been moved to center-back due to his pace and quality, although he was replacing captain Puyol, such a signing is just a short-term fix, at least that’s how everyone saw it. Mathieu was never considered a great player, not even in his prime years, as he’s only had two caps for his national team, France. After signing him, Barcelona confidently placed his buyout clause at €50 million, a figure that only silly managers would pay to acquire the services of the aging defender. During Barça’s inconsistent form from November to January, Mathieu was blamed for not being up to standards. Many claimed that he was just another failure and a desperate attempt of fixing a problem without searching for the best solution. With time, Barcelona started showing solid defensive capabilties and the player earned the respect of all.
Only four players, Gabriel Batistuta, Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito and Zlatan Ibrahimovic transferred for a higher figure in their 30s, and the former Toulouse defender has never been in the class of those gentlemen on the pitch. Despite that, the criticism did not affect him at all, Barcelona’s defensive line is as solid as it can get, conceding only 17 compared to Real Madrid’s 27. Mathieu himself has caught the headlines by scoring on two separate ocassions, against Real Madrid and Celta Vigo. His two goals could be as crucially important as all the goals scored by Lionel Messi.
without Mathieu’s two goals for Barcelona this season, the Catalans would have four less points. since he earned the win against Celta Vigo, preventing a draw and earlier he scored against Real Madrid in a 2-1 victory which means without his goal the game would have ended in a tie. Surprisingly, without Lionel Messi’s 32 goals for Barcelona this season, Barcelona would only have four less points than what they have now, the majority of his goals were scored in winning situations.
Gerard Piqué has returned to his world class form, this drastically improved Barcelona’s back-line as we saw in the spectacular performance in Sunday’s win against Celta Vigo shows. But his partner, Mathieu, is playing an important role in the heart of the defense. He’s more comfortable with the system and his responsibilities, and has a good understanding with his partner.
Mathieu is not the ideal Barcelona center-back. But the truth is, in the current situation, he has been ideal for his club, he withstood the test of pressure and criticism and made it at a club with the calibre of Barcelona, his defensive and offensive contributions from now till the end of the season will matter the most as he attempts to win as much as three titles with his club including the European Champions League. Luckily for Barcelona, he has been the surprise of the season.