Football is full of sliding doors moments. And never was this better demonstrated that on Sunday when former Barcelona director Javier Bordas revealed that the club passed up the opportunity to sign Kylian Mbappe in 2017.
The Blaugrana were searching for a replacement for Neymar, who had just joined Paris Saint-Germain, but rejected Mbappe in order to sign Ousmane Dembele instead.
“When we were trying to sign Dembele, [Barca transfer intermediary] Josep Maria Minguella called me to tell us that Mbappe was within reach,” Bordas told Mundo Deportivo.
“I called his [Mbappe’s] father and he told me he wasn’t going to Real Madrid because they had Cristiano, Benzema and Bale. The president of Monaco preferred Mbappe to go to Barca rather than PSG, a direct rival. And for €100M it could have been done.
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“But the technical secretary preferred Dembele and [former sporting director] Pep Segura supported him. The explanation was that Mbappe plays for himself and Dembele plays for the team. And since a winger like Ney left, a winger was the preferred option.”
Barcelona surely regret this decision as Dembele has endured an injury-plagued three-and-a-half years at Camp Nou, starting just 12 La Liga games in his first season and only three last term.
Mbappe, meanwhile, has plundered a brilliant 97 goals in just 132 games for PSG. He also played a key role in France winning the 2018 World Cup, scoring four goals in Russia – one of them in the final itself.
The 21-year-old would have formed a potentially dream attacking partnership with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Due to Dembele’s repeated absences, Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde was often unable to field a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system. Instead he regularly plumped for 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 line-ups which were very effective domestically as Barca won La Liga, but horribly lacked pace and width in Europe.
This contributed to the humiliating quarter-final collapse in the Champions League to Roma as Barca threw away a 4-1 first-leg lead to lose 3-0 in Rome in the second leg.
A front three of Mbappe playing from the left with Suarez in the centre and Messi cutting in from the right would have been mouth-watering.
While the midfield that season was often criticised, the likes of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta would have been more than strong enough to hold the fort for such a world-class frontline.
Valverde would also have had the option of utilising an ultra-attacking 4-2-3-1, with Mbappe on the right, Messi as the number 10, and Philippe Coutinho or Iniesta on the left behind lone striker Luis Suarez.
Barca fans will surely be left pondering on what might have been. In the end, Barcelona shelled out up to €145 million on Dembele, who despite his undoubted talent is just not fit enough to be relied upon.
A sliding doors moment, indeed.