The mantle has been passed.
On the same weekend that Barcelona’s old number 8 scored a beautiful first goal in Japanese football – well worth a look, if you haven’t seen it already – their new one made his competitive debut against Sevilla in the Supercopa de Espana.
Arthur, the young midfielder who has inherited the number 8 shirt from the legendary Andres Iniesta, is the latest Brazilian to join up with Ernesto Valverde’s squad.
And, on Sunday evening, he put in a solid performance, providing hope of a bright future at the Camp Nou.
The New 8
On the day he turned 22, Arthur showed a willingness to put his foot on the ball and dictate the rhythm of the game, despite his team going behind early doors, and late in the first half won the foul which brought Gerard Pique’s equaliser.
The most promising element of his performance was not anything he did in possession but how comfortable his team-mates were with giving him the ball.
The more experienced squad members clearly trust him, and, given they played with midfielders of such quality for so long, no higher compliment can be paid.
At the start of the second half he drifted from the game a little and with 53 minutes gone was replaced by the more attack-minded Philippe Coutinho, with his manager looking to find a winner.
Nevertheless, Arthur had done enough to prove that he will be an important part of the first-team squad this year.
It is inevitable that people will compare Arthur to his predecessor in the number 8 shirt – many younger fans can’t even remember a time when Iniesta was not starring for the Blaugrana. But parallels are probably more accurately drawn with another club idol.
After their pre-season game against Tottenham, Rafinha told reporters that Arthur “has a touch of Xavi about him. It’s the way he touches the ball, the way he passes it. He is a great, great signing for Barcelona.”
The men in question are not too fond of the comparisons, however. In July, Xavi told Mundo Deportivo that Arthur has the “Barcelona DNA”, but added that “he has to make his own career. He has to show personality, demonstrate that he is a different player.”
Regardless of whose style he resembles more closely, there is no doubting Arthur’s suitability for his new home.
The Perfect Match
Some players appear tailor-made for certain clubs and there can be no purer case of that phenomenon than Arthur and Barcelona.
The Catalan giant’s taste for possession is no secret and there are few players less willing to give the ball away than the young Brazilian.
“I’ve always had the ball at my feet”, Arthur announced at his presentation, and he is determined for it to remain there.
Before leaving Gremio, he was already master of making short, simple passes and moving into space to receive the ball again before laying it off and getting on his bike once more. He seems merely to lend the ball, rather than give it to his team-mates.
No player attempted more passes per 90 minutes in Brazil’s Serie A last season and nobody completed a higher percentage of those attempted passes.
It was in the Copa Libertadores, however, that Arthur really made his name. His performance in the second leg of the final against Lanus was so dominant that he was given the man-of-the-match award despite going off injured after just 50 minutes.
Against Botafogo in the quarter-final he was equally impressive, taking control of the occasion and completing 100% of his passes. After that tie, Renato Portaluppi referred to Arthur as “another hen from Gremio’s golden eggs”, a reference to the likes of Douglas Costa, Lucas Lima and Ronaldinho, who have also come through the ranks of the Porto Alegre club.
With his arrival in Catalunya, he has followed in Ronaldinho’s footsteps but unlike his dazzling forerunner – and unlike compatriot Vinicius Jr., who has recently moved to Real Madrid – Arthur was not earmarked for future greatness when still in nappies.
He moved to Gremio from his home-state club of Goias at the age of 14 and though he did well in the youth ranks, he was not talked about in the national media as one to watch.
Arthur made his first-team debut as an 18-year-old in 2015, when Luiz Felipe Scolari was Gremio manager, but was withdrawn at half time and only made one more professional appearance in the next 18 months.
He was sent back to the youth ranks to train and work on his game, but when he came back, the effort had paid off.
In the 2017 Libertadores group stage, Arthur was given his chance in a game against Paraguayan club Guarani and this time did not disappoint. He did not misplace a single pass on the night and from that moment on became the first name on the team sheet.
He earned his first Selecao call-up in October 2017 and despite just missing out on a spot in the final World Cup squad, he will certainly return for Brazil’s upcoming friendlies.
After years without any metronomic passing midfielders, Arthur is the great hope for the future of Tite’s national team.
Added to the burden of replacing Xavi at Barcelona, it is a lot of weight to carry on his shoulders and given where he was two years ago, it is quite a surprise.
But all indications suggest that Arthur is up to the task. Every hurdle placed in front of him, whether that be with Gremio, Brazil or now at Barca, has been overcome with style and grace.
The next few months will be huge for his career, as we see if he can cement a place in the starting 11 for club and country. But if his on-pitch persona is anything to go by, that pressure won’t bother him one bit.