Should Samuel Umtiti return to Lyon?
Background photo: Zakarie Faibis, CC BY-SA 4.0
Supporters who followed Barcelona's 2017/2018 campaign had to come away feeling that Samuel Umtiti was the missing piece that would fit the Blaugrana defence for years to come. The Frenchman partnered with Gerard Pique that well. He settled in seamlessly and made the left side of the box his home. He and Pique were impenetrable. The Blaugrana conceded just 29 goals. He deserved all the comparisons with Carles Puyol.
Alas, nothing lasts forever. After claiming the Liga title and Copa Del Rey, Umtiti was bitten by the injury bug. Near the campaign's end, the defender began feeling discomfort in his left knee. Determined to help his nation at the 2018 World Cup, he opted against surgery, opting instead for pain-killers. That made matters worse.
Umtiti hasn't been the same since he returned to the Nou Camp from Russia. He lost pace and form. The knee injury keeps recurring. He started just 14 games for Barca last season, going the full 90 minutes 11 times.
Amid the struggles, Ernesto Valverde decided to give Clement Lenglet the nod. The former Sevilla standout grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Rock solid this season, he has moved into Umtiti's flat and has no plans to leave. Lenglet has started 15 matches to Umtiti's four. The job is his until further notice.
Umtiti's future at Camp Nou looks bleak. Leaving appears to be the best option. The defender recently admitted that he could end up rejoining his former club, Olympique Lyon. That might work for all parties.
The Catalans would free up a roster spot for a more durable defender while reducing their wage bill. The sale would add more money to the coffers while youngsters Jean Claire Todibo and Moussa Wague receive opportunities to develop.
Struggling at the back, Lyon can use some help. They've conceded 20 goals from 19 games across all competitions and languish in ninth in Ligue 1. Umtiti could help turn their season around. On his day, the Frenchman is a defender of the highest calibre. There's no doubting his ability. Even at less than 100%, he can shore up the backline.
Leaving Barca behind would take a load off his mind. His Blaugrana dream is now a nightmare. A change of scenery will do him a world of good and, when one is looking for emotional support, returning home isn't the worst idea. Rudi Garcia would need to ease him into the lineup and rotate him frequently to keep his knee from protesting. Nonetheless, fans would be happy to see him. As well, the competition would be somewhat lighter. So would the pressure to win.
Admittedly, it's a gamble for Lyon but needs must. Lower in the table than they are accustomed, Les Gones must roll the dice. Furthermore, the club keeps letting fan favourites depart, whether it's Umtiti, Alexandre Lacazette, Tanguy N'Dombele or Nabil Fekir. Having one return would give supporters a bit of joy in a difficult time.
All in all, it's a win-win [win] situation.