Losing the Captain of anything is going to hurt. Whether it’s football or naval warfare, the Captain is the person who you expect to be most devoted to the cause. They're supposed to be your leader. Morale on a battleship would probably suffer if the sailors all awoke to find their old Captain suddenly leading an enemies’ attack. Dortmund have lost their Captain in a similarly hurtful way, but all is not lost.
Mats Hummels has officially made the move from Dortmund to Munich that is becoming all too common. He came through Bayern’s academy, but only ever appeared once for their senior team. At BVB he became one of the best defenders in Europe. The 27-year-old made a few crucial mistakes this year, but still had a very good season overall.
Replacing the pillar of your defense is never going to be easy, but Dortmund may have actually done it quite easily.
Marc Bartra’s transfer from Barcelona to Dortmund became official over the weekend, with BVB only having to shell out €8 million to activate his release clause. €8 million really isn't that much money in today's market. Only having to spend that much for a promising young defender from Barcelona could prove to be an incredible steal. If Puyol had come with it too it would've been the deal of the millennium.
Bartra is a product of La Masia, the world-famous youth academy at Barcelona. He made his senior team debut in 2010 at age 19, and has been a member of the senior squad ever since.
Opportunities to play weren't always there for Bartra at Barcelona, as he was often the 3rd or 4th choice center-back in some incredible teams. This season was especially frustrating for the young Spanish defender. Marc only made 23 appearances in Barcelona’s three main competitions, only starting nine of those games. When Bartra was called upon he performed well, putting in some quality performances in La Liga and the Champions League.
Bartra’s relative inactivity speaks more about the club he was at and the players he was behind. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano have each been ever-present in the Barca defense for as long as a lot of us can remember. It’s unlike Barcelona to attempt to fix something that isn’t broken.
Despite his lack of playing time at Barcelona, Bartra was still selected by Vicente Del Bosque to be a part of Spain’s squad at the Euros this summer. Clearly Bartra is still thought of very highly in Spain, most players who come through La Masia and have even a bit of success at the senior level usually are.
Growing up as a defender in Barca’s academy, Bartra was trained in a way that differs from how many young defenders are trained in Europe. FCB are famous for having the kids in their academy attempt to play the same style of tiki-taka football that the senior team plays.
Center-backs are rarely picked out as good passers, but it would’ve been something that was required of Marc as he came up through La Masia. It's no surprise that passing is now considered to be one of the top strength's of his play.
Bartra’s ability to pass the ball and to play as a ball-playing defender are obvious signs that he is a direct replacement for Hummels. Without going too far down a hurtful memory lane, we can all remember some incredible passes Hummels made during his time at BVB. Having a center-back who can unlock defenses is a luxury that was clearly important to those making the footballing decisions at Dortmund.
Despite their similarities, it would be unfair to expect Bartra to come into the team and immediately perform up to Hummels’ standard. But I think it will happen sooner than we expect, Bartra is clearly hungry for a chance to impress following frustration at Barcelona.
Bartra's transition into the team will be helped immensely if Sokratis is able to carry his form from the DFB Pokal Final into next season. I honestly believe Sokratis is ready to take the leap and become one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga. If that happens, the period of adjustment for Bartra may be a bit easier.
Mats Hummels isn't a player who is going to get any better. When his career is over, people will look back and know that his best years were at Dortmund. It is also not unheard of for top defenders to move to Bayern and struggle. Ask Mehdi Benatia how his time has gone since he traded Rome for Munich.
Meanwhile the consensus on Bartra is that he really hasn't had a chance to show his full potential. He'll certainly get that chance at Dortmund. Hopefully him and Sokratis can develop some chemistry during the preseason as they attempt to build a strong center-back partnership.
The Bartra signing may prove to be one of the quieter moves in what is shaping up to be an insane European summer transfer window, but it looks like one that will pay-off. Bartra's footballing education at Barcelona has molded him into a defender uniquely appropriate for Dortmund's system of play.
I was worried about finding a similarly-styled replacement for Hummels, but Bartra should be a really good fit. In a couple years we're going to look back at this deal and marvel over how it only took €8 million to bring him to Dortmund.