Jean-Clair Todibo Is a Talent Barcelona Simply Can’t Afford to Lose

​The term ‘generational’ with regards to talent is one that is certainly flung about fairly loosely to describe an up-and-coming footballing starlet these days. While Kylian Mbappe, Matthijs de Ligt and Joao Felix have earned the right to be described as players who may well come to dominate an era, the extension of the tag to the likes Mason Greenwood, Gabriel Martinelli, Callum Hudson-Odoi and beyond – talented though they are – is a little ridiculous.

There is at least one player who, for now, slides into the Greenwood/Martinelli category due to his limited experience at the highest level, but may reach ‘generational’ status in the near future. That talent is 19-year-old Jean-Clair Todibo. 

After impressing in the first half of the 2018/19 Ligue 1 season with Toulouse as an 18-year-old, Todibo – a centre-back who’s represented France at Under-20 level – moved to Barcelona in January 2019 for a fee just shy of £1m. 

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During his short stint in Toulouse’s first team last season, Todibo was dominant. 

The Frenchman is remarkably quick while his 6’3 frame means he regularly bullies opposition strikers – his physical stature can be likened to that of Virgil van Dijk. In his ten Ligue 1 appearances, Todibo averaged two tackles per game, winning a mightily impressive 85.6% of them – and also won 5.5 duels per 90. He is a duel specialist.

The teenager is an incredibly smart and instinctive defender, often reading the game expertly to sniff out any potential danger while he’s incredibly tough to beat in one-on-one situations – getting dribbled past only 0.2 times a game last season. 

His dominant nature along with his ability on the ball persuaded the Barça hierarchy to sign him despite a relatively small sample size. 

And just under a year later, the Catalans now have themselves in a messy situation with their defensive prodigy. Despite an impressive display on his debut against Huesca in April, Todibo has mustered just 77 La Liga minutes this season before Barça’s Champions League clash with Inter in the week – more on that, shortly. 

Despite Gerard Pique showing the first signs of decline and Samuel Umtiti often dealing with injury, Valverde has persistently refused to give the former Toulouse man a chance alongside Clement Lenglet – whose been outstanding for the Catalans this season – with Uruguayan Ronald Araujo seemingly above Todibo in the pecking order as well.

Iago Aspas,Jean-Clair Todibo

Todibo’s lack of game time led to other clubs taking notice. 

First, it was Bayer Leverkusen but their interest cooled after Barcelona insisted on a buy-back clause, and now Milan are believed to have entered the fold. The fee associated with a potential deal (£10m) is crazy on Barcelona’s behalf. To let a talent with such a high ceiling slip away for relative loose change would be appalling business, buy-back clause or not, and Todibo’s display against the Serie A leaders in the week highlights that. 

After a rather nervy start, Todibo settled in nicely at San Siro and was one of the few Barça players that looked settled in possession amid Antonio Conte’s high press. The Frenchman displayed tidy ball-carrying abilities throughout – starting off the move for Carles Perez’s opener with a surging run out of defence – and was also brave enough to play line-breaking passes despite Inter’s compact three-man midfield. 

And while he lost out on a couple of duels in key situations – namely against Lautaro Martinez for the Nerazzuri’s goal and Romelu Lukaku before the Belgian smashed his half-volley straight at Neto – Todibo often came out on top in individual battles against two of Europe’s most in-form strikers at the moment. After a La Masia-inspired victory knocked Conte’s men out of the competition, the teenager finished with an 82% pass completion, eight ball recoveries, three successful dribbles (100% success) and a 75% tackle success rate. 

Despite the odd demonstration of naivety, it was a mightily composed and mature display from Todibo, who showed why his contractual release clause in Catalonia is £125m.

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More importantly, that one showing should’ve shown the Barcelona hierarchy the sheer criminality of letting the 19-year-old go in January for such a small fee. This is a player that has all the attributes to become a ‘generational’ central defender along with Dutchman de Ligt while his personality with the ball at his feet fits the ‘Barça way’ like a glove. 

A new right-sided centre-back will be required soon as 32-year-old Pique starts to regress and fortunately, the Catalans have his replacement waiting in the wings – they just haven’t realised it yet and there’s a growing fear among Barcelona supporters that he could swiftly slip through their fingers.

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