It is not yet four months since Pep Guardiola was advertising the brilliance of Ferran Torres as a finisher. “In this position,” said the City manager of Torres accomplishments as a central striker, “his movements are like the best strikers’.”
Guardiola compared the Spaniard to Jamie Vardy, Leicester City’s king of the counter-attack, as he purred his approval of Torres’s two goals - plus an assist - in a 5-0 win over Arsenal.
It was three matches into Manchester City’s defence of their Premier League title, and Guardiola had come to accept that City’s determined bid to buy Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur was going to be unsuccessful in the summer transfer window. And that, given Sergio Aguero’s departure for Barcelona, City would have to thrive by continuing to adapt their wingers and attacking midfielders to centre-forward tasks rather than field established, orthodox number nines.
Torres on Tuesday introduced himself to Barcelona as the finisher, or winger, or support striker, ready to resolve a number of shortcomings at the struggling Catalan club, and effectively reminded City, who agreed an initial fee of around €55m for his sale to Barca, what a fine piece of business they did when they recruited him, aged 20, from Valencia. That was 18 months ago, and City paid less than €30m.
The deal is also understood to include add-ons worth up to €10m to City should the player reach certain targets. Among them, Torres’ contributions to bringing major trophies to Barcelona, which may seem a distant objective at a club sitting seventh in La Liga and freshly eliminated from the Champions League but speaks of City’s faith in Torres potential over the long-term and of Barcelona’s mission to stabilise and then climb back to former heights.
It is a statement signing, a signal to Barca supporters that, amid the crises brought on by the club’s vast accumulated debt and the closing of their Camp Nou stadium through most of the Covid-19 pandemic, they can access the sort of finance to bring in Torres.
The fee will be paid via installments from next June. Barcelona were confident, in agreeing it, that the Spanish league’s tight limits on clubs’ spending according to income can be met and Torres be registered as theirs from next month.
Aguero’s enforced retirement, four months after he joined from City, because of a heart problem has created some space in a collective wage-bill that was so close to its ceiling that, last July, Lionel Messi was told he could no longer be accommodated at Barca.
The club are also seeking exits for high earners like Samuel Umtiti, the France defender, and Philippe Coutinho, who has made little impression since becoming Barca’s all-time record transfer - over €150m - four winters ago.
The price agreed makes Torres the most expensive Spaniard in the club’s history at the end of a year when he was the Spanish national team’s highest scorer by a distance, with eight goals and very significant contributions to Spain’s reaching the semi-final of the European championship and the final of the Nations League in October. There, he picked up a foot injury that prevented him building on his early-season momentum with City.
Once Barcelona’s interest, pushed by head coach Xavi, became known the player was interested in moving. He looked at the competition for attacking places at the English champions - the queue that includes Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus - and, at 21, saw the offer of a senior role at Barcelona persuasive.
He is not the first City starlet to reach that conclusion. Leroy Sane is now enjoying a fine second season at Bayern Munich - 11 goals and 11 assists so far - following his summer 2020 move from Manchester. Brahim Diaz, who left City in 2019, is playing an influential part in AC Milan’s push for the Serie A title. Both left Manchester in search of more minutes of first-team action.
Torres should anticipate a very senior role at Barcelona, as leader of a front six that could include four teenagers - Torres’s Spain international team-mates, striker Ansu Fati, both 19, and midfielders Pedri, 19, and Gavi, 17; along with midfielder Nico, 19. Both Nico and Gavi have been promoted to the Barca first team this season.
New winter signings can only be registered on or after January 3, when right-back Dani Alves - at 38 a temporary reinforcement - will also officially rejoin Barcelona five and half years after he left. He may not be available to play immediately, though, having joined a list of the club’s players who have tested positive for Covid-19 this week, thinning Xavi’s options for the Liga fixture against Real Mallorca on Sunday.