There have been plenty of big names to join Major League Soccer this season. Seemingly every other week, some team in the league has rolled out the red carpet to welcome in an internationally-known veteran with vast World Cup experience to their side.
Friday, the Philadelphia Union joined the club, formally introducing Swiss midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta to the public.
“I was looking for a new experience, for something totally new – and I think I found it here,” Barnetta said, meeting the Philadelphia media for the first time. “Since the first contact with the guys here, I’ve felt really good that this could be a new chance for me. I’m happy that at the end we could sign this contract so that I am part of the Philadelphia Union.”
The recently turned 30-year-old midfielder has already been to three World Cups –playing in all seven games in Switzerland’s 2006 and 2010 campaigns – and has spent his entire career playing in arguably the world’s best league, Germany’s Bundesliga. Most recently at Schalke 04, Barnetta has played in the UEFA Champions League, as recently as a few months ago, and has consistently faced some of the biggest clubs throughout Europe.
Of course, Barnetta’s signing has flown under the radar this week – something that hasn’t bothered head coach Jim Curtin, technical director Chris Albright, or Barnetta himself. Montreal’s signing of Didier Drogba captured the headlines, similar to the many others who have come from the English Premier League to MLS here in the 2015 season.
But there’s a common theme that also seems to by flying under the radar: age. Some of the league’s top signings this year are possibly on their last legs – or contracts. Drogba, 37, joined a virtual who’s who of former players in the conversation of the world’s best player. That includes Andrea Pirlo (36), Frank Lampard (37), Steven Gerrard (35), David Villa (33) and Kaka (33).
“I think you look comparatively, obviously those players are great players, but comparatively age-wise, we’re getting a player that’s truly in his prime,” Albright said. “I think that’s something that we’ve set out to do as a club. I also think that when you look at the boxes that we want to check in terms of on and off the field, I think Tranquillo does that. As far as what we want to build and bringing in guys that are winners – that’s what Jimmy always talks about, guys that have always won before and will hopefully impart some of that knowledge to our younger guys who haven’t won as much – so I think in a lot of ways, he fits the profile of players we’d like to add now and going forward.”
Added Curtin: “It’s a big one for the club. It was one that we presented the idea of getting the right balance of the culture, talent and the scheme of this club. Tranquillo really fit in. He was a guy that we put forward to [ownership] and they were incredibly supportive of that.”
Now for Curtin, the question is where he’ll fit into the lineup. While Barnetta might not be 100 percent match fit for Saturday, Curtin admitted he’ll be looking to get his new signing into the lineup as soon as possible.
And the reinforcement is needed. This past week, the club found out they’ll be without box-to-box midfielder Vincent Nogueira for a month. They’ve already established captain Maurice Edu into a defender’s role, leaving the middle of the field a little thin.
“Positionally, his versatility was a big appeal for us – he can play centrally, he can play wide; he’s a good soccer player,” Curtin said. “Does he have the versatility to play out wide in a pinch? Yes, that’s absolutely an option for us to play as a winger, but I see him more as that No. 8/No. 10 type of hybrid, who can get you goals and is very good in possession. I can’t say enough about being able to add him to our group.”
As for Barnetta, he’s just looking to help where he can – on or off the field.
“Every player wants to play and the last few weeks was a bit difficult for me because you don’t know what is going on,” he said. “Now it’s clear, it makes me happy and now the next step is to be 100 percent fit to help the team and maybe want a few weeks more, and then I will be there. And it’s not only helping on the field, maybe I can also help another player if I talk to him or something like this. I can start with this directly, and on the field, we start tomorrow and step by step it can get better.”
What do you think of the Tranquillo Barnetta signing? Leave your comment below.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.