Barcelona have stepped up their search for a Sergio Busquets replacement with the objective of signing a new midfielder in January, sources have confirmed to ESPN. Barca, as previously revealed by ESPN, sounded out deals for Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Ruben Neves in the summer as possible options in case Frenkie de Jong moved to the Premier League.
But De Jong made it clear he wanted to stay at Barcelona despite pressure from the club to accept a transfer away or agree to reduce his salary.
Just a few months later, however, Barca find themselves back in the market for a deep-lying midfielder as they start to prepare for life without club captain Busquets.
Busquets, 34, is out of contract at the end of the season and received criticism for mistakes in their recent setbacks against Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Zubimendi and Neves remain on Barca’s radar, sources have confirmed.
The former recently signed a new contract with Real Sociedad, although his release clause remained fixed at around €60 million.
Neves, meanwhile, has a contract with Wolves until 2024 but his agent Jorge Mendes is in regular contact with Barca and has previously offered them the opportunity to sign the Portugal midfielder.
Internally, there is a debate about whether Zubimendi and Neves are the best two options and there are other names on the table. Sources would not confirm who they are at this tentative stage, but Ajax’s Edson Alvarez, PSV Eindhoven’s Ibrahim Sangare, Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez and Chelsea’s Jorginho have all been linked with Barca.
Mendes’ relationship with Barca president Joan Laporta would make a deal for Neves the easiest to pull off. But given the doubts among the club’s hierarchy, a short-term deal in January with an option to buy, similar to Adama Traore’s move to Barca last season, could be an option to buy time.
Barca’s pool of midfielders to cover for Busquets this season was reduced in the summer. Academy graduate Nico Gonzalez asked to join Valencia on loan in search of more minutes, while Miralem Pjanic also requested the club release him when interest surfaced from United Arab Emirates side Sharjah in September.
Busquets has not yet officially made a decision on his future and will not do so until after the World Cup with Spain at the earliest. However, sources expect him to leave Camp Nou after 18 years at the club next summer, leaving a big gap in front of the back four.