Scouting Report: Sergi Samper
In amongst some very unrealistic dreams to splash the cash like City, United, and Liverpool this summer was the very real possibility of finally securing their prized Frenchman. No, we’re not talking about Karim Benzema — but the former defensive midfielder for Southampton, Morgan Schneiderlin. Instead, Wenger, to the dismay of fans and pundits alike, allowed Manchester United to sign him away. Simply put, after the emergence of Francis Coquelin, there just wasn’t a need to spend 20 million on a similar piece.
But with the imminent departure of Mathieu Flamini to Galatasaray and Mikel Arteta on his last legs, it would be wise to grab another defensive midfielder to learn the trade. God forbid the ever-present injury bug comes for Coquelin next or he becomes a bigger one-hit wonder than the Dexys Midnight Runners’ Come On Eileen, then suitable backup seems crucial to any potential title run in 2015-2016.
Enter: Sergi Samper, the twenty year-old prospect currently starring for Barcelona B. Of course, Barcelona would be hard-pressed to let go of their promising youngster, especially after Wenger nicked Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral from them in 2011, and Cesc Fabregas, famously, in 2003.
Now, for the record, You Are My Arsenal believes that this transfer seems rather unlikely, but, in any case, it might prove beneficial to examine what type of player the club could acquire given an absolute miracle. Just two months ago, you would’ve been called crazy to predict Chelsea’s release of Petr Cech to Arsenal, so, in the name of silly season and the dog days of summer, let’s take a look at Samper.
Again, Samper is just twenty years old, and has spent the last fourteen years in the Barcelona youth system and has, allegedly, captained every side he’s ever played for. He’s a 5’11 agile freak on the field, and uses his deft quickness to offset his heavy, but intelligent tackles. Samper, funnily enough, seems to possess that iconic Barcelona style already: flashy, yet elegant, all without worry of losing possession.
Traditionally, Samper fits the Barcelona model to a tee — he’s possession-focused midfielder with great vision and ability on the ball. He’s been at Barcelona since he was six years old, born and bred through the footballing giant’s youth academy. Although he didn’t feature with Barcelona during their victorious 2014-2015 La Liga campaign, he snuck into three Copa Del Ray fixtures and one Champions League match during group play.
Of course, this is not Wenger’s first rodeo with Samper, after being unable to lure him away along with Bellerin and Toral, he’s allegedly been after him ever since. Given Barcelona’s rich history of talent, and Wenger’s notoriously splendid ability to find it, Samper could be the next crown jewel of Europe. In September of 2014, The Mirror reported that Samper was receiving heavy praise and lofty comparisons from many major Spanish outlets. it reads:
“There have also been endless comparisons during the last 16 years, particularly recently. Another Barcelona-based newspaper, Mundo Deportivo, likened Samper to Andrea Pirlo, while another journalist at SPORT suggested he harboured the best aspects of both Sergio Busquets and Xavi.”
Further than that, unfortunately, there isn’t much to go on in terms of predicting Samper’s potential impact in 2015 or even in the immediate future should he make the decision to join Arsenal. Despite all the heaping praise Coquelin has received since rejoining the team in December, he’s still mainly a defensive midfielder that goes through the opposition, not around them. Whereas Samper, even at his young age, although, admittedly against much lesser competition, possesses the ability to dribble around defenders and make things happen on the attack. Samper appears to have all the qualities of a successful defensive midfielder — calm, cool, and collected, able to win the ball back, stays within the offense, and can filter the manager’s strategy through him — but it frankly seems unlikely that Barcelona will let him go.
However, with Sergio Busquets, 27, Ivan Rakitic, 27, and newcomer Arda Turan, 28, patrolling the middle of the field for Barcelona for the foreseeable future, it’s possible that Samper could see greener pastures with Arsenal. In Lee Roden’s 2014 piece for ESPN, he explores Samper’s play-style and noticed that his biggest contributions don’t always come by way the stat sheet — does that remind you of anyone from Arsenal’s current roster? Roden says:
“[. . .] Samper had the presence of mind to take a quick glance over his shoulder, spotting Ibrahim Afellay dropping back from a more advanced role to pick up Bartra’s pass. The Catalan midfielder knew what was coming, and ran diagonally away from his original position to draw the attention of one of the Recreativo players who should have been protecting the area Afellay wanted to carry the ball into. As a result of Samper’s movement, the Dutchman had space to drive forward and look for a teammate, finding Gerard Deulofeu, whose spilled shot was subsequently driven home by Joan Roman.”
And that is the stuff you can’t teach to even the most brilliant of footballers — that killer instinct to take over and leave your imprint on the game even when they’re not on the ball. Samper will be a special player anywhere he goes if he can command attention, make smart decisions, and open up space for his teammates. For now, it’s unclear whether or not Barcelona would let him leave, or if Wenger has even enquired about him at all — but one thing is for sure: the future looks very bright for Sergi Samper.
(Cheers to Barca 24-7 for letting us use this video!)