Leading the line for Barcelona has long been one of football’s highest honours.
From Cesar, Laszlo Kubala and Ronaldo to Patrick Kluivert, Samuel Eto’o and now Luis Suarez, generation-defining strikers have long pulled on the Blaugrana shirt.
It’s fair to say, at the age of 28, Martin Braithwaite has yet to define a generation.
Braithwaite started his career in his native Denmark, representing Esbjerg for five years before ignoring interest from England and Scotland to move to Toulouse in Ligue 1.
A career-high tally of 11 league during the 2015/16 season earned the Dane a move to the Championship with Middlesbrough, but he was loaned back to France two years later having found the net just eight times.
Four goals in 14 Ligue 1 appearances weren’t enough to convince Bordeaux to sign Braithwaite permanently, but La Liga minnows Leganes saw enough to take the Dane to Spain in January 2019.
The 28-year-old was chugging along nicely in the outskirts of Madrid, having netted six times in 19 league games this season, before Ousmane Dembele’s troublesome hamstrings made the implausible a reality.
Braithwaite may not have defined a generation. He might have struggled to make an impression in the second tier of English football under Tony Pulis. But none of that counts now he’s set to join Cesar, Kubala, Ronaldo, Kluivert, Eto’o and Suarez in leading the line for Barcelona.
Hamstring surgery will keep Dembele on the sidelines for the next six months, with La Liga rules freeing Barcelona to sign Braithwate as a replacement.
But far from being a win-win situation for all parties involved, everywhere you look there are losers.
Barcelona have lost one of their most exciting attacking talents and replaced him with a significantly worse player, at a reported cost of €18million, while Leganes have lost the most-potent weapon in their precarious attempts to stay in La Liga.
Worryingly for Barcelona fans, another loser in this whole not-so-merry-go-round is Lionel Messi. Braithwaite’s signing is a slap in the face to the Argentinian. While not quite a dead fish wrapped in a bulletproof vest, Braithwaite’s arrival at the Nou Camp is an insult to Messi.
The signing of Braithwaite shows such little planning on behalf of the Barcelona hierarchy that you’ve got to wonder whether Messi is really best-served seeing out his final years at the club.
Warnings signs flashed brightly last season when Kevin-Prince Boateng somehow ended up in the position of backup to Luis Suarez following Paco Alcacer and Munir El Haddadi’s exits, but they were clearly ignored.
No one could have predicted that Suarez and Demebele would both be ruled out for the season within weeks of each other, but Barcelona’s decision to allow Carles Perez and Abel Ruiz leave the club for Roma and Braga respectively was always likely to leave Quique Setien’s squad short.
Perez and Ruiz’s departures, coupled with Carles Alena’s loan to Real Betis, were particularly troublesome for Barcelona fans because they represent a further move away from the club’s reliance on La Masia.
In all likelihood, Braithwaite won’t spend much time partnering Messi in Barcelona’s remaining 14 league games.
Messi, Griezmann and Ansu Fati form Barcelona’s first-choice front three, with Albanian striker Rey Manaj able to step up from Barcelona B if required, as was the case against Getafe.
And you can’t blame the Dane for jumping at the chance to represent Barcelona, especially if he picks up a La Liga winners medal at this stage of his career.
But Braithwaite’s signing symbolises the deep rot that has taken hold of Barcelona in recent years.
Buckle up, because Life after Messi, whenever it comes, is going to be bumpy ride.
READ MORE FROM THE WORLD OF DREAM TEAM:
- Don’t expose yourself to Borussia Dortmund vs PSG if you appreciate the art of defending
- Barcelona’s goal kicks are a lovely reminder that football still has room to evolve
- Who should neutrals cheer for in a title race between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig?