It is amazing how quickly things can change in football. Samuel Umtiti knows that. After won starred in the FIFA World Cup win for France in 2018, things have gone downhilll for the defender. They’ve become so bad that he has now almost become a stranger to many Barcelona fans.
Before injuries began making an impact, Umtiti was an important part of the Catalan side. In the 2017-18 season, the Frenchman had appeared 25 times in the league (via Transfermarkt) but towards the end of the season, the knee problem cropped up. He did start the 2018-19 season well, but the same problem came up just six games into the season.
After missing six games, Umtiti returned to action. But before the very next game at home to Villarreal, the knee issues were at his doorstep again. Clement Lenglet had established himself a regular alongside Gerard Pique, by this time.
Umtiti did return in February, but made only seven appearances after returning. He didn’t make a single appearance in the Champions League, as Barca tumbled out of the competition in the semi-finals against Liverpool.
He returned to action against Eibar this past weekend, doing well at the back in a 3-0 win away from home. While there was promise, but no one knows as to how long this promise will last considering his injury record.
Against Eibar, the Frenchman was one of the best players on the pitch. He won as many as four aerial duels and played the fifth-highest number of passes on the pitch- 55. He also had the fourth-highest passing percentage in the game- 93 percent (via Whoscored).
But his playing abilities have never been question for anyone. A player who has been key for the club in the past and won the World Cup will never have his ability question. Not when he is still 25. It is his fitness that will always be the biggest concern, whenever he plays.
A report from Diario AS makes an interesting claim. They say that Umtiti knows he has to maintain his fitness to play regularly for the Nou Camp based side. They also reveal some details about his regular knee issues.
As per them, Barca have been alternating between different treatments to eliminate the injury. While they have asked the player to get a full surgery done to completely get rid of the problem, Umtiti has resorted to short-term minor surgeries to get going for the time being.
They say that there is a feeling at the club that things could have been much different if the defender had paid heed to their advise as early as last year.
Clearly, there is a disagreement about the issue. But that exists because Barca know what they have in a player like Umtiti. On his day, he was close to world-class before the injury in the end of the 2017-18 season. Barcelona know that if fully fit, they will have a top class defender.
Reports have linked clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United with a move for Umtiti. But none of the reports have come from credible outlets. That is a good sign for a player who still seems keen on playing regularly at Barca.
The way Lenglet and Pique have established themselves is not ideal. But Umtiti has already played over 70 games alongside Pique- which is more than how many Lenglet has played. The pair’s right foot and left combination worked very well when Umtiti was at his peak. They complimented each other in playing styles- like how Lenglet and Pique do too.
But just like how Isco is too good a player for Real Madrid to sell, Barca can’t afford to let Umtiti leave when he is still 25. There is still very much a top defender there. He has already played more than what his fee of 25 million euros would mean. But there is still loads left in that tank for Barca to let go.
Umtiti himself has a responsbility on him. Getting that major surgery done would go a long way in resurrecting his career.