Arthur and the mission to replace a midfield legend

Age catches up with everyone. Even legendary players such as Barcelona captain Andrés Iniesta see their skills decline. But Barcelona think they may have found a solution with Grêmio midfielder Arthur.

Finding the spaces where the opposition can’t get the ball, finding the opening that leads to a chance, and finding the position to receive a pass were some of the duties a Barcelona midfielder had to perform in order to make Pep Guardiola’s ‘tiki-taka’ work as a well-oiled machine. No other player in that Barcelona team performed those duties with more excellence than Andrés Iniesta.

The composure, ability to play accurate passes, vision, and notion of space on the pitch are attributes that make Iniesta one of the greatest — if not the greatest — midfielders of all time.

Eventually, like any other football player, age comes. This season is Iniesta’s last in a Barcelona shirt, ending a glorious spell lasting 16 years and over 400 appearances. In a bit of forward thinking that the club occasionally lacks, Barcelona are looking to complete an agreement that would see Grêmio midfielder Arthur join in January 2019, for a fee that can rise to £36m.

Highly regarded from a young age

Born in Goiânia, a city near Brazil’s capital Brasília, Arthur started playing in the academy of Goiás, a local team from his city. He joined the academy when he was a four-year old, playing there until his move to Grêmio in 2010.

Since his early days at Grêmio, Arthur has been regarded as a technician that holds a special ability on the ball, not just with his passing and composure, but also with his mental ability to read the game and place himself on the field.

Since making his Grêmio debut in 2015, Arthur has become an integral part in the club’s resurgence in continental and domestic football. With him, Grêmio won the Copa do Brasil in 2016, ending a 15-year title drought. Last year, they also won the Copa Libertadores, a title that put Grêmio back on the radar.

Arthur was a big part of those glories, establishing himself as an integral and irreplaceable piece in Grêmio’s possession-focused play.

In the Libertadores, for instance, Arthur played a huge role in the final, helping Grêmio win their midfield battle against Lanus. In that game, Arthur finished as man of the match on a night that Grêmio won their third Libertadores.

Despite not winning the Brasileirão last season, with the team’s focus on the Libertadores, Arthur excelled as one of the best midfielders in the league and caught the eye of most football fans in Brazil. His performances in dominating the midfield earned him the Best Defensive Midfielder award in the Brasileirão, together with the Most Promising Player that season.

A daunting task ahead

Replacing such an iconic and great figure like Iniesta is no easy job. If Arthur is brought in to replace a midfield great, his mission will be one of the hardest he could’ve asked for.

His ability with the ball on his feet is notable, completing 90% of his passes through his career, and making more than 95 attempts per game, the second most in the whole Brasileirão.

Iniesta averages 54 passes per game, significantly less than Arthur. Judging by the numbers, Arthur is the man responsible for creating at Grêmio. He is the guy that has the ball and needs to decide the best way to use it.

He is a forward thinker – making the most passes forward in the Brasileirão, an essential quality for Barça.

Despite his age, the 21-year-old is not shy about being in the spotlight, carrying a different spirit for big games. This quality was praised by Tite, Brazil’s national team manager, who said:

“When I went to the game, I wanted to see the atmosphere, the emotion and the weight of the game. He is a boy playing so natural, away from home, with a pretty high concentration level.”

Despite the high praise, Arthur was unlucky to miss out on a place in Brazil’s World Cup squad.

However, the maturity shown by Arthur since making his debut for Grêmio is remarkable and bodes well for his potential move to Spain.

It is a mission that will take time and patience to accomplish. Iniesta is one of the masters of the game, and Barcelona’s move away from him will be difficult. However, Arthur has shown encouraging and remarkable qualities that can make him one of the best midfielders in the world. Age may have caught up with Iniesta, but with Arthur, Barcelona will hope it hasn’t caught up with them.

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