The rise and rise of FC Barcelona’s Arthur Melo

Arthur Melo FC Barcelona vs Girona

Having earned rave reviews for his recent performances, let us take a look at Arthur Melo’s rise through the ranks and his time so far at Barcelona.

Watching Arthur Melo pirouette through the Spurs midfield last week, one could almost be forgiven for mistaking him to be one of La Masia’s very own. Calm in possession and seemingly unfazed by pressure, he seemed more Spanish than Brazilian as he passed his way around Wembley, making a mockery of the high-press Spurs are well known for. His statistics were as impressive as the spectacle he put on show, with a staggering 91 percent passing accuracy as well as the highest number of tackles in the game.

While his performances may have inevitably cast him into the limelight, they are still baby steps for Barcelona’s new signing on the big stage. It was at 14 that he moved to Gremio and by 19, he had been thrust into the limelight, making his first team debut.  Arthur initially struggled in Gremio’s first team and indeed it was only in 2017 that he became a regular for the Brazilian side, the turning point being his much heralded Libertadores debut, with his 100% passing rate on debut being an oft-quoted statistic.

Arthur continued his rich vein of form with some eye catching performances in the Club World Cup, although it ended rather painfully for him, the youngster missing the final against Real Madrid with injury.

Barcelona’s interest in the player was well known and it was around this time that controversy struck. With Barcelona hosting Celta Vigo at home, Arthur was in attendance at the Camp Nou and having informed Gremio’s directors, there seemed little cause for worry. It ended up being a fiasco however, as soon after, pictures emerged of him wearing a Barcelona jersey. Gremio were upset with Barcelona for having put their player in such a position and considered taking action. The matter de-escalated quickly enough though, with a phone call from Barcelona’s technical secretary Robert Fernandez cooling things down.

It was a power play by Barcelona however, and their interest was out in the open now for everyone to see. From then on, it was only a case of when, not if, as Barcelona got their man in the summer.

But just how good is he and does he indeed fit into the Barcelona jigsaw?

In his early days, Arthur was often compared to Blaugrana legend Andres Iniesta with his quick feet and ability to evade defenders not far from Iniesta’s style. Indeed, the two men share similarities in more than just their playing style with both standing exactly 1.71 meters tall. It was thus no surprise when he expressed his disappointment at Iniesta’s decision to leave Barcelona the same summer that he had joined them.

“I’m sad. I started to understand football in a different way, watching Iniesta play with Barcelona. He was an example to follow for me, someone who, from a distance, I’ve tried to have as a reference.” he said.

Following his move to Catalonia however, fans and pundits are instead drawing parallels with another former Barcelona ace – Xavi. Arthur too has previously spoken on his preferred position and claimed that he likes to “have the ball at his feet and organise”.

While comparisons to former legends seemed premature, much was expected of Arthur following his summer move. It was rather anti-climatic however, as since scoring in his first match, a friendly against Spurs, Arthur’s presence was largely restricted in terms of appearances. His La Liga season started from the bench, often being brought on only to help close matches. Going into the first international break, he had a mere 27 minutes of league action under his belt. His first start was particularly poor as Barcelona dropped their first two points of the season against Girona, with Arthur recording no dribbles, no tackles and no recoveries in his 58 minutes on the pitch. He was subsequently not given any minutes for the next two league matches.

Arthur’s moment finally game in the match we raved about at the start, Spurs at Wembley, and how. While much has already been written about his performance in the game, a 180 degree turn to shield the ball in midfield was one for the highlights reel, uncannily reminiscent of Xavi shielding the ball at the heart of the midfield in his prime. Arthur has since started at Mestalla against Valencia, one of the lone bright sparks in another draw.

It is thus no doubt that the former Gremio midfielder has had to bide his time and be patient. Some might say it’s only just a couple of good games, but the quality of his performances suggest otherwise. In a side of bona fide superstars, Arthur finally looks to be at home.

Although comparisons to Xavi might be overstated, the biggest praise for Arthur came earlier this season from his captain, Lionel Messi.

Speaking on radio, the little master gushed, “If I have to pick out one of the new signings it would be Arthur. He is very confident and very secure.” On comparisons with Xavi, he said, “He has a similar style. He plays it short and he doesn’t lose the ball.”

When appreciation comes from the very best, it becomes hard to ignore.

Armed with Messi’s stamp of approval, Arthur looks set to be a part of the Barcelona jigsaw for a long time to come.