At the midway point of last season it would have been practically inconceivable that Barcelona and Manchester United would find themselves in similar positions during the run-in to the 2014/15 campaign.
Though the cogs weren’t turning half as smoothly as they had done under Pep Guardiola, Gerardo Martino was steadily steering the Catalan giants towards contention for yet another La Liga title, and fans were expecting the Argentinian to guide them to the latter stages of the Champions League once more.
Over at Old Trafford things couldn’t have been in more danger of falling off the other end of the scale. David Moyes’ start has produced disastrous results, squad harmony had taken an unholy kick to the private parts and the idea of providing Europe’s elite with a challenge in the Champions League knockout rounds was laughable.
A pair of managerial changes and two huge shifts in emphasises later and the two clubs find themselves almost on level ground. Almost.
United and Barca as equals?
Barca have installed former player Luis Enrique as their new coach, and the side which has dominated Europe for the best part of the last five years is poised to be broken apart. United went for a more experienced option Louis van Gaal but nevertheless the script remains the same; take things apart from the bottom up and make sure that a large restructuring results in a return to the glory days.
It’s true that the former La Liga champions are in a slightly more enviable position given the fact that they didn’t finish seventh domestically last year, but for arguments sake it’s safe to assume they have relatively similar ambitions for the future. That’s what makes it moderately coincidental that they both seem to be entwined in a lengthy transfer battle for the same player; one who greatly improved his stock at this summer’s World Cup.
The hunt for Cuadrado
The hype surrounding Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado reached fever pitch in Brazil, and his performances have duly resulted in heightened attention from some of the biggest clubs around. One glance at the transfer rumour mill is enough to indicate that Barca and United are locked in a battle for his signature, with each trying to one-up the other when it comes to contract offers and promises of status.
Yet, whilst when it comes to first-team opportunities it’s Van Gaal who has the upper-hand, surely the Dutchman is fighting a losing battle? The Colombian very much finds himself the man of the moment given the fact that James Rodriguez is now out of the equation, and all avenues seem to point to the Nou Camp.
First and foremost there’s the Champions League factor to consider, which history tells us simply cannot be understated. Not only will United be missing from Europe’s premier competition but they won’t be competing in the Europa League either, meaning that Cuadrado would be sacrificing what he has already has at Fiorentina purely to play in England.
Barcelona on the other hand are guaranteed Champions League football, and it’s an angle Enrique would be wise to approach negotiations on.
Then there’s the company to take into account. With no disrespect to United they simply can’t compete with a lineup which includes Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Andres Iniesta.
At 26-years-old and having only recently announced himself on the world stage, Cuadrado must be vying to play amongst such illustrious company. The Theatre of Dreams Old Trafford may be, but Catalonia promises the realisation of any childhood ambitions the Fiorentina man will have harboured.
The turning point
Finally, and weighing in as the most decisive influence, there’s Cuadrado’s suitability to take into account when it comes to where he’d fit in best. Sure, the 3-5-2 system Van Gaal often deploys would give him the opportunity to get up and down the right flank with ease, but the harshness of the Premier League has broken many a promising import, and the player himself will know La Liga is a backdrop more appropriate to complement his strengths.
Pace, trickery and an eagerness to get forward are all traits Cuadrado has made himself known for, and with the best will in the world even United fans would be forced to agree that Barcelona, and Spain's elite division, provide a better platform for him to showcase those on.
At the present United and Barca find themselves running neck and neck for his signature, with both ready to offer serious financial incentives to finalise a deal - including matching his £32million valuation -. Surely that’s the only similarities they share in this instance?