Alex Song (25) has not performed well at center back in any of the chances given to him at FC Barcelona, nor did he ever shine in that role during his time in London. I myself dispelled a warning about this possibility in a pre-season preview. To be clear, Song is not a poor football player by any means. However his strengths are not defensive, they are very much offensive, despite the stereotypical box [strong African = defensive midfielder] people are trying to put him in. As a direct replacement for Seydou Keita, the transfer had value, but did Seydou Keita every play center back? Maybe once or twice, but well? That is not to say Song can or will never improve at the back, but it certainly won’t be before 19:50 this evening.
People also have to realize how difficult it is for a player be asked to perform a role in a team against his preference, instincts, and self-perceived strengths. A case like Javier Mascherano, midfielder turned center back, is essentially unheard of. Mascherano always had better defensive abilities, in particular instinct and positioning, than Alex Song, so in my opinion the Argentine’s stunning successful conversion in hindsight was somewhat more probable.
Don’t just take it from me though. During the last week Alex Song came under some serious scrutiny from Guardian journalists extraordinare Sid Lowe and Rafael Honigstein.
“Alex Song was playing at centre-back but nobody appeared to have told him. Every time you looked up he was standing somewhere he shouldn’t be.” – Sid Lowe in his Sevilla match report
“Song was an impostor making out that he was this great defensive midfielder but in a way he was just a slightly more cultured Steffen Freund looking very busy, doing very little apart from the odd through ball that would come off but then he would be out of position 15 other times. And I think the kind of shrug that greeted his departure from all the Arsenal fans told you the real story about where he really stood in the grand scheme of things.” – Rafael Honigstein in the Guardian’s Football Weekly Podcast on 27/09/2012
I wish Song great fortune and success tonight because I don’t want to see any Barça player fail nor do I want his failings to affect the outcome for the team. Tonight the midfield’s role, Busquets in particular, will be even more crucial than normal. But make no mistake, a center back pairing of Mascherano and Song is the weakest FC Barcelona have put forth in many years. There is reason to worry.
Image: Lluis Gene (AFP)