It’s no secret that FC Barcelona isn’t in a great place financially. Years of high spending on transfer fees and salaries have created enormous debt, while early exits in Europe and stadium renovations haven’t helped. As a result, the club has shifted its transfer strategy from buying stars at their peaks for eye-watering fees — like Philippe Coutinho or Antoine Griezmann — towards scouring the market for bargains and promising young players.
Enter Vitor Roque. The 18-year-old striker was brought in for a not-insignificant fee of €35 million plus bonuses from Club Athletico Paranaense. For the first time in years — perhaps the first time since Pedri was signed back in 2019 — it feels like Barcelona may have signed a future star.
Barcelona was far from the only club that wanted to sign the teenage star. In his final season in Brazil, Roque scored an incredible 21 goals while also recording eight assists. Multiple Premier League clubs were said to be interested, but Roque wanted to join the La Liga giants instead. However, he couldn’t join the squad until January, when the Brazilian Serie A season was over.
Vitor Roque made his debut against Las Palmas, playing the final 13 minutes of the match. While he didn’t score — and perhaps should have — he showed something that Barcelona hasn’t seen with current striker Robert Lewandowski this season. The offense became more open and dynamic after his introduction, thanks partially to Roque’s threatening runs.
If you simply look at Robert Lewandowski’s G/A, you might assume he’s having a strong season. He has eight goals and four assists in La Liga. However, the Polish striker has struggled in front of goal, as shown by his xG of 11.8 — meaning that he should be closer to 12 goals. He has just one goal in five starts in the Champions League, too, while he has only scored twice in his past nine games for the club.
It’s not that Lewandowski has been terrible — he just hasn’t played as expected. When Barcelona forked over €50 million for the Bayern striker, they were signing a goalscorer who they hoped could take them back to the top. While he helped them win La Liga, he’s been wasteful in front of the net at times, which contributed to Barcelona’s group-stage exit in the Champions League last year. There are plenty more criticisms about his attitude, contract, creativity, energy, etc.
All of this means that manager Xavi will have a difficult decision: should he stay with the proven yet struggling Lewandowski, or should he turn to the rising star Vitor Roque?
Xavi has mentioned the possibility of Roque playing on the wing alongside Lewandowski, and the two were on the pitch together against Barbastro (where, it should be mentioned, Roque missed another good chance). However, Roque has played centrally for most of his career, and Barcelona has more options on the wings than in the middle, so Roque will likely earn more minutes as a striker.
The other striker options are João Félix and Ferran Torres — who aren’t really traditional strikers — or someone from the reserves, likely Marc Guiu. While he is talented, Guiu has the same problem that Roque will have.
That problem is the weight of expectations. Plenty of talented prospects have struggled with the pressure of being the next Camp Nou star: Bojan Krkić, Alen Halilović, and, more recently, Ansu Fati. Barcelona is a great club with high expectations and demanding fans, so struggling players will hear about it often — either from fans in the stadium or from the club’s tens of millions of fans on social media.
Roque is joining Barcelona halfway through the season, so Barcelona still has a chance to win three competitions: La Liga, Copa del Rey, and the Champions League. Putting a club’s hopes of winning one of the biggest trophies in the sport on the shoulders of an 18-year-old who has just arrived in a new country and is getting familiar with his teammates is simply too much pressure to put on him.
He could have scored twice by now, missing big chances against Las Palmas and Barbastro. Both times he took just a bit too long before shooting, which shouldn’t be a concern for the future. Once he is confident and has more experience, he will start converting those chances.
As long as Barcelona is in contention for the La Liga title, Robert Lewandowski should be the club’s starting striker, with Roque being the first option off the bench. If they fall out of the title race, it may make sense for Roque to get a couple of starts. The Copa del Rey, on the other hand, could be a great place for Roque to start some matches — it’s still a big competition, but there’s not as much pressure to win it and opposition often isn’t playing with a full-strength XI.
Next season, Roque should be ready to start. Half a year in Barcelona adjusting to the team and the league should do wonders for the Brazilian, and Lewandowski — approaching 36 — could be headed towards the exit. Until then, Roque should wait — his time will come.
Image courtesy of fcbarcelona.com.