Braithwaite to Barcelona: Leganes left counting the cost of Catalans' incompetence

Martin Braithwaite Barcelona GFX
The Liga strugglers have lost their main striker because of an injury crisis at Camp Nou that would have been avoided with a shred of foresight

Odion Ighalo’s loan from Shanghai Shenhua to Manchester United is no longer the strangest transfer move of 2020.

Three weeks after the window closed, Barcelona have surpassed the Red Devils by triggering the release clause of Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite at a cost of €18 million (£15.6m/$19.4m).

From Middlesbrough's bench to Barcelona in little over a year, things can certainly change quickly in football. Braithwaite left Teesside at loggerheads with then-coach Tony Pulis in January 2019 and will now be lining up alongside Lionel Messi.

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But how did it come to this? The Spanish champions have been bailed out by relegation-battling Leganes, a side which was forced to sell their other starting striker to Sevilla weeks ago, after the Andalusians paid Youssef En-Nesyri’s buy-out clause.

Barca were free to steal Braithwaite away from Leganes because of a La Liga rule that permits clubs to sign players on an emergency basis if one of their existing squad members is ruled out for five months or longer, so long as the transfer target is either a free agent or arriving from another team within Spain.

Ousmane Dembele’s recent hamstring tear ruled him out for six months and, after the Spanish FA ratified his injury report, Barcelona were, thus, given the green light to make a move outside of the usual transfer windows.

However, the deal has caused a great deal of controversy in Spain because Leganes will not be able to replace Braithwaite.

The Pepineros are 19th, level on 19 points with bottom-of-the-table Espanyol, and losing their first-choice forward will be a brutal blow to their survival hopes. Under new coach Javier Aguirre they had shown signs of improvement, but this may strike them down once and for all, and through no fault of their own.

Spanish sides are required to give all players a buy-out clause and some insist upon a low figure when joining a new club so that they can easily move on if an inviting opportunity comes along.

However, usually the selling club would have some chance to replace the man they lose. Leganes, though, have been left with a group of forwards without a single goal between them this season.

The worst thing about this whole sorry affair is that Barcelona are in a mess of their own making yet it is Leganes who have been left counting the cost of another club's total lack of foresight.

The Blaugrana already had Luis Suarez sidelined for four months and should have realised a long time ago that they simply cannot rely on Dembele to stay fit.

Therefore, the Catalans should have brought another forward in during the winter window but they failed to tie up a deal for Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno.

Then, they comically pulled the plug on a loan move for Cedric Bakambu when the Congo forward had already started on the first leg of his journey to Spain’s east coast from China.

"Yo, Transfermarkt, change my transfer history with 'almost Barcelona' please," Bakambu tweeted, taking the late collapse of the proposed deal in good humour. Nobody at Leganes is smiling now, though.

Many Barca fans are also distinctly unimpressed with their latest deal.

Borussia Dortmund signed human wrecking ball Erling Braut Haaland for €20m (£16.7m/$21.6m) at the end of December and watching the 19-year-old Norwegian sensation rip Paris Saint-Germain apart in the Champions League on Tuesday, it is hard not to wonder how Barca have ended up spending nearly as much on Braithwaite.

The Denmark international is the shortest of short-term solutions; he cannot even feature in the Champions League. No matter what sporting director Eric Abidal says at his presentation on Thursday evening, there is a very real chance that Braithwaite will be discarded at the end of the season.

Barcelona will argue they were trying to save resources to spend in the summer, with moves for PSG’s Neymar and Inter’s Lautaro Martinez in the pipeline, but this is a situation they should have handled so much better.

They even flip-flopped between options for their emergency replacement, with Willian Jose first considered before Getafe’s Angel Rodriguez was installed as the prime candidate. Barcelona made checks on other forwards too, including Alaves' Lucas Perez and Levante’s Roger Marti.

Levante wanted €30m (£25.1m/$32.4m) for Marti, a figure Barcelona were unwilling to meet, so they eventually settled on Braithwaite.

Martin Braithwaite Barcelona GFX

After disappointing stints with Middlesbrough and Bordeaux, the Dane has at least looked more comfortable at Leganes, with 10 strikes in 38 matches a solid if unspectacular record for a struggling side. He is the club’s top scorer this season but with just six goals in 24 Liga clashes.

At Barcelona, of course, he will no longer be feeding on scraps, instead being served three-course meals by Messi. But his signing is still a gamble, not far removed from last year's regrettable loan deal for Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Ghanaian played four times for Barcelona, scoring no goals.

Braithwaite will face even more scrutiny than Boateng because of the controversy surrounding his transfer. In fairness to the striker, he is not at fault. He even made a point of speaking face-to-face with the Leganes president on Wednesday.

Owner Felipe Moreno understood why the player wanted to go, but he now has to deal with the mess that Barcelona have left behind.

"The truth is that we're very worried. After what happened with En-Nesyri, staying in this league gets harder every day,” he admitted.

The debacle highlights the injustice of Leganes’s position and the total absence of a coherent transfer strategy at Barcelona.

The Madrid minnows have long been hanging on to their Liga status by a thread and the Catalans may have just cut it.