An emergency, of sorts

Braithwaite’s workrate has impressed Barcelona in the past.
Braithwaite’s workrate has impressed Barcelona in the past. / EFE
  • Barcelona have outdone Manchester United with the strangest signing of the winter, former Middlesbrough forward Martin Braithwaite

Just when Manchester United thought they’d cornered the market of bizarre winter signings, Barcelona turn up and blow them out of the water.

Odion Ighalo’s unexpected transfer from the Chinese Super League to the Premier League appeared to be the wackiest move until Martin Braithwaite headed from La Liga club to La Liga club long after the winter transfer window had slammed shut.

We all knew that clubs could make an emergency goalkeeper signing if your shot-stopper is injured, but who knew you could sign a striker any time you wanted? Clearly the answer is the legal eagles at FC Barcelona.

When the club declared that injury had ended Ousmane Dembélé’s season and Luis Suárez may struggle to return before May, they consulted the rule book and decided they would activate a clause that allowed an emergency signing.

Of all the desirable strikers, Braithwaite was probably just behind Ighalo. You can imagine the fans up in Middlesbrough saying “Funny, we used to have a striker called Martin Braithwaite, I wonder what happened to him?”

What happened is… he should still be contracted to Boro until 2021 but he’s signed a deal at the Camp Nou with a reported buy-out of 300 million euros.

He fell out with the club in the north-east of England and headed to a humble club on the outskirts of Madrid. Although he’s a Denmark international, a club that aims for a mid-table finish is about his level. He won the fans over by scoring his first goal against Barcelona in January last year and his work ethic was appreciated by the fans.

That goal against the champions must have stuck in the mind of someone in Catalonia because when Barça found themselves short of a striker they decided to investigate the buy-out clause of the 28-year-old. A modest 18 million euros appeared to be worth the investment and they pressed ahead to the bemusement of everyone.

The emotion felt at Leganés went beyond bemusement - it was pure anger. There was nothing they could do to prevent him leaving if the buy-out clause was paid; even worse they’re not allowed to replace him as they fight relegation.

I couldn’t recall many panic signings working out until I cast my mind back to March 1990. I’d headed down to London to commentate on Liverpool’s away match at Charlton. When the team sheet arrived, it contained the name of an unknown Ronny Rosenthal instead of the star-man Peter Beardsley. In those pre-search-engine days the only background we could find was the fact he was an Israeli international who had been on trial at Luton Town.

Rosenthal entered folklore by scoring a hat-trick on his debut and went onto finish with seven goals in eight games to lead the Merseysiders to the English title.

So, there is a distant precedent for Braithwaite - go and do a ‘Rocket-Ronny’.

It could be the difference between Barcelona finishing first or second. I mean, they were down to the bare bones of teenage sensation Ansu Fati, summer signing Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi. It truly was an emergency.