Vilanova, Zubizarreta and the rest of the Barcelona hierarchy must be hating EURO 2012 right now. Partly because the heart of the team that will be going toe-to-toe with Real Madrid next year will return to pre-season training exhausted by another intense month of football, but mostly because their number one transfer target is currently one of the shining lights in Poland and Ukraine, with his valuation getting nudged up a million or two after each solid shift the fleet-footed full back-cum-winger puts in for La Roja.
Speculation that the La Liga runners-up were eyeing up a move for Alba has been simmering for months and no doubt the health concerns over Eric Abidal has seen the interest accelerate in preparation for the new season. Barcelona has shown great solidarity in their support for the Frenchman who had to undergo a Liver transplant at the end of the season and while retirement claims have yet to be confirmed, the club is now looking to find some stability in that left back position. A lot of money was spent on securing utility man Adriano from Sevilla who has deputized well in Abidal’s absence but if Dani Alves is coaxed away from the Camp Nou, Adriano may move into the right full back position freeing up space for Alba.
Following in the supremely gifted footsteps of David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata, Alba is another young talent that has flourished at the Mestalla balancing his defensive and attacking duties with consummate ease since making his La Liga debut some four years ago. The Spaniard formed an excellent partnership with Frenchman Jeremy Mathieu on Valencia’s left hand side swapping roles as winger and left back so impressively that helped Emery’s side late push to secure a third place finish in the league.
As much as Alba has flourished marauding down that left hand side for Valencia with Mathieu in support, at Barcelona his duties are likely to be more demanding. Barcelona are unlikely to change from the narrow midfield that has served them so well under Guardiola which means that Alba will be required to cover most of the ground and provide the width on that left hand side. It shouldn’t be a problem for the Spaniard having played in this system for the national side during the EURO 2012, most notably in his excellent display against France in the quarter-finals, proving that he has the stamina to carry out the role.
Standing in the way of Alba returning to the club he was once released as a teenager will be new Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova’s transfer budget and Unai Emery’s staunch opposition to selling one of his prized assets. Still only 23-years old, Alba already has tremendous experience under his belt in both domestic and international competitions and already knows many of his prospective teammates well. In spite of Barcelona failure to secure the La Liga title or the retain the Champions League last year, these are still exciting times at the Camp Nou and as previous La Masia graduates have found before, when the great Barca come calling it’s hard to resist pulling on your training bib to play alongside Messi, Sanchez, Pique, Busquets and Pedro everyday.