⚽ Barcelona have identified Lautaro Martinez as a summer target
⚽ Player has €111 million release clause
⚽ Inter boss Conte may want cash to rebuild
Lautaro Martinez has dreamed of playing with Lionel Messi since he was a kid.
The Argentina forward has already realised this dream for the national team, but soon he could be rubbing shoulders with the Barcelona legend on a daily basis.
Following a chaotic January transfer window which left them woefully short on attacking options for the rest of the season, Barca have already begun planning for the 2020-21 campaign (and that's unlikely to involve new €20m 'emergency' arrival, Martin Braithwaite, from Leganes)
Their top target is Inter star Lautaro, who Barca see as a long-term replacement for the ageing Luis Suarez. The 22-year-old has a €111 million release clause in his contract, which is active during the first two weeks of July.
While Inter’s CEO Giuseppe Marotta has publicly stated that the club wish to keep Lautaro, privately they will not resist if the attacker pushes for a move.
Coach Antonio Conte already has a ready-made replacement in January signing Christian Eriksen. This would mean adjusting to a 3-5-1-1 formation with the Dane supporting lone striker Romelu Lukaku, and Lautaro’s sale would provide Conte with over €200m to strengthen other areas of the team – namely the wing-backs - given Mauro Icardi is expected to raise more money by making his move to Paris Saint-Germain permanent.
A potential transfer to Barcelona could be a win-win scenario for both clubs.
Barca would be signing a burgeoning talent who should develop into one of the world’s best forwards. Quick, skilful, two-footed and brilliant in tight spaces, El Toro boasts all the qualities required of a classic Barca player. While he is not as strong or aggressive as Suarez, he contributes more in the build-up phase of the attack whilst also being just as predatory inside the box. Despite standing at just 5ft 8in, he is also deceptively good in the air, with over a third of his Serie A goals being headers.
Like all great attackers, he also scores goals that tip the balance of matches. Incredibly, 11 of his 16 strikes this season have broken the deadlock, while 12 have been scored inside the first 30 minutes. A further four goals have been decisive in turning a draw into a win or a loss into a draw.
He also has an impressive record in the very biggest matches, finding the net this term against Juventus, Barcelona, Napoli, Atalanta and home and away versus Dortmund. He was one of the standout players in the Champions League group stages – despite Inter’s failure to progress – scoring five times and reportedly leaving Messi in awe during a goalscoring showing at Camp Nou.
“I asked Messi for his shirt before the game and at the end he came over to give it to me. A great friendship has been forged between us,” Lautaro beamed at full time.
“It is a dream to play in the national team with him. I have admired him since I was a kid.”
A great friendship has been forged between us.Lautaro on Messi
Certainly, the prospect of an LM-LM partnership at Barca is a mouth-watering one. During the handful of Argentina matches we’ve seen, they have worked wonderfully together. Lautaro’s selflessness and willingness to find his strike-partner even with the goal in front of him has been very evident at Inter alongside Lukaku. This self-sacrifice makes him the perfect foil for Messi, a player who demands that his team-mates play for him like perhaps no one else in the sport.
The big question mark will be how Lautaro adapts to Barca’s 4-3-3, a system he has only minimal experience of during his senior career. With Argentina he has operated both as the sole striker in Lionel Scaloni’s 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 and in a front two in a 4-4-2.
For almost his entire time at Racing, Lautaro played as part of a front two alongside either Lisandro Lopez or Gustavo Bou. In his first full season he acted more as the foil for Lisandro, working outside the area. But in his breakout 2017-18 season he was chiefly the frontman with Lisandro operating across the forward line in support.
Upon moving to Inter in 2018, he spent much of the season as Icardi’s understudy in Luciano Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1. Often isolated as the lone striker, it was a role that he wasn’t ideally suited to physically. He did, however, make key contributions and scored in the Milan derby.
Certainly, Lautaro seems most at ease in a two-man attack and he has truly exploded this season in Conte’s 3-5-2, forming a devastating partnership with Lukaku, with the pair scoring 37 goals between them. Lukaku has been more of the physical focal point at San Siro, but as Lautaro showed in the Belgian’s absence at Camp Nou he is more than capable of being the main reference.
Barcelona WITH LAUTARO
In Barcelona’s 4-3-3, Lautaro would play in the centre of the attack with Messi joining in from the right and most likely Antoine Griezmann from the left. With the emergence of Ansu Fati and Francisco Trincao arriving from Braga, Ousmane Dembele’s future will be under threat given his constant injury problems. Suarez himself should stay for the final year of his contract, gradually being eased out of the first team picture. It remains to be seen if new coach Quique Setien will still be in charge.
What is not in doubt is that should this transfer transpire, Barcelona will be signing one of the stars of the next decade. And it would be a dream deal not only for the player himself, but for all football purists who will be treated to an LM-LM masterclass.